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New Coalition Highlights Needs of South Asian Communities

New America Media, Deepa Iyer Posted: Jul 17, 2008

Editors Note: South Asian immigrants confront a variety of problems in their daily lives yet no one seems to be talking about them. A new coalition hopes to change that. Deepa Iyer is executive director of South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), a national, non-profit organization that is a member of the National Coalition of South Asian Organizations and is coordinating the Coalitions activities. Immigration Matters regularly features the views of the nation's leading immigrant rights advocates.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, South Asians have experienced the impact of unfair and arbitrary migration, citizenship and land ownership policies. Even though immigration quotas were abolished with the passage of the 1965 immigration law, South Asian immigrants since that time have encountered a range of challenges, including lengthy separations from family members due to the backlog of visas, exploitative practices in the workplace that undermine the rights of immigrant workers, and post 9/11 immigration policies that singled out those from Middle Eastern and South Asian nations.

Immigration problems facing South Asians will continue until these fair and just reforms are put into place:

Reuniting Families: With nearly 22,000 individuals entering through a family category in 2006, South Asians heavily use family-based immigration visas. Yet, some have to wait nearly 11 years before obtaining green cards. In addition, a growing number of green card holders are waiting to be reunited with their spouses and children. These separations are especially difficult for newer immigrants who do not have support networks in the United States.
Protecting the Rights of Women in Abusive Marriages: For women trapped in abusive marriages, securing their stay in the United States can be challenging because maintaining immigration status sometimes requires cooperation from the abusive spouse. Women on H-4 visas who are dependent on H-1B visa holders often have limited recourses in becoming self-sufficient due to restrictions under immigration law.
Accessing Services and Benefits: Many states with emerging or concentrated South Asian populations have implemented policies that would negatively affect immigrants such as initiatives that prohibit housing rentals to undocumented immigrants, mandate English-only curricula in public schools, and deny drivers licenses to undocumented immigrants.

South Asian immigrants confront these challenges in their daily lives. However, our experiences are often not discussed within community settings, in ethnic media, or by service providers and policymakers for a variety of reasons. A driving impetus behind the formation of the National Coalition of South Asian Organizations and the development of the National Action Agenda, a collaborative policy platform, is a collective interest in bringing these issues to the forefront and framing concrete policy recommendations.

In mid-June, 32 South Asian community organizations from 12 regions throughout the United States announced the formation of a National Coalition of South Asian Organizations. The coalition also released a detailed action and policy agenda that focuses on nine key issue areas affecting local South Asian American communities. The groups launch is the result of a multi-year process that has included regional dialogues and partnerships, a national convening in 2007, organizational needs assessments, and the articulation of shared social justice principles.

Coalition partners include community-based groups that provide social services, organize, and advocate for South Asians in 12 cities around the United States. The groups focus on a wide variety of issues such as mental health, domestic violence, racial and religious profiling, housing and economic development.

The coalition partners have come together with a clear purpose: to identify and communicate progressive policy recommendations about nine key priorities. These include:
Ensuring full and equal participation for all in the civic and political process
Guaranteeing enforcement of strong civil rights and civil liberties laws for all
Expanding and refining data collection related to South Asians
Promoting economic justice and financial security for South Asians
Advancing gender equity within the South Asian community
Promoting measures addressing the health needs of South Asians
Promoting immigrant rights and just reforms to the immigration system
Protecting the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, questioning, and gender non-conforming South Asians
Advancing the empowerment of South Asian youth

In the coming months, coalition partners will engage policymakers and community members through briefings and discussions around the issues identified in A National Action Agenda. Coalition partners also intend to enhance their own work through trainings and information sharing about effective models being used around the country.

The coalition has the potential to draw connections with the experiences of migrants in other parts of the world and to influence the debates and discussions around immigrants here at home. At a time when immigrants are facing unprecedented challenges and obstacles in the United States, the coalitions development and the identification of policy priorities are important steps.

To learn more about the Coalition and the National Action Agenda, visit http://saalt.org/national_coalition.html.

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