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Milestone Day: First American Sikh Caucus

Article by: Sharon Persaud, Media and Communications Manager, UNITED SIKHS

Washington D.C.- April 24th, 2013 is now a significant day in the history of Sikh Americans. From day one of migration to the America from India some 130 years ago, Sikhs have not only been successful and making positive impact in society, but also feeling the backlash that comes from the ridiculation of sacred practices and beliefs. How best to tackle these issues that going straight to the ones in charge, in the United States, that is Congress.

By forming a caucus, which by definition is the meeting of supporters and members of a political party or movement to listening and disseminate issues of a particular group. In the United States, the formation of a caucus provides a specific group with a direct voice to the lawmakers and changers. Why is this so important to Sikh Americans? Sikh Americans have faced racism and discrimination for many years and it only heightened after 9/11 and the Wisconsin shootings to name just two. As a result of September 11, some Sikh Americans have become subject to discrimination, often from individuals who under a mistaken identity have attacked people of color, be it Hindus, Sikhs or Muslims and Arabs. Balbir Singh Sodhi, a gas station owner, was killed on September 15, 2001 due to being mistaken for a Muslim. In a 2011 report to the United States Senate, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported several assaults and incidents of arson at Sikh temples after September 11. All were labeled as hate crimes that resulted from the perpetrators’ misconceptions that their targets were Muslim.[1]

Although the majority of anti-Sikh hostility and hate crimes occurred in the wake of the September 11th attacks, Sikhs continue to be the target of racially motivated violence. As recent as March 7, 2011, a Sikh family in Virginia received death threats in an anonymous letter, charging the family with ties to the Taliban.[2] Referred to as the Turban Family, the family was told to either leave the country or face serious consequences. There was also a tragic occurrence on March 8, 2011 where two elderly Sikh gentlemen, Surinder Singh, age 67, and Gurmej Atwal, age 78 were gunned down from a moving truck in West Sacramento California.

Many civil-rights organizations such as UNITED SIKHS, SALDEF and SIKH COALITION have dedicated their work to empowering, educating and protecting individuals facing such backlash. Two determined individuals took the honest upon themselves to propose this caucus to Congress members: Harpreet Singh Sandhu, a California-based political activist, and Dr. Pritpal Singh, American Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (AGPC) Coordinator, for their role in spearheading the formation of the Caucus.   “The Sikh dream of a direct voice to Congress about Sikh related issues has come true. The Caucus’ purpose is to educate and allow Members to strategize on how to support the American Sikh community and attack the many issues we face today including bullying, Armed Forces, and homeland security. I am so happy to have civil rights groups such as the UNITED SIKHS as a supporter and this Caucus can only get bigger and bigger as days to come,” said Mr. Sandhu.

Representatives from California, Congresswoman Judy Chu (D) and Congressman David Valadao (R) currently the co-chairs of the caucus, launched the First American Sikh Caucus. They also received the backing of 28 other members of Congress. While this caucus has the potential to grow and grow, we are looking forward to them listening to the trials and tribulations facing the Sikh communities nationwide. From bullying in schools to ridicule by TDA, amendments need to be made allowing Sikhs to practice their religious beliefs freely in this country of freedom.

Sikhs express only excitement and enthusiasm on this so long awaited formation of this caucus. Many Sikh groups have come formed to support the caucus and their numbers are increasing.  Its time to be a witness to the change and to see the collective impact this will have on the issues and concerns that the Sikh communities are facing.   The Latino- Jewish Caucus, launched in 2011, has brought change and voice to the concerns faced by these two groups jointly. The model is to make sure that the Sikhs who with the other color minorities who have faced the brunt of discrimination/attacks based on their identity hope to make sure that the caucus will address their issues and concerns.

  1. ^ “Anti-Muslim Incidents Since Sept. 11, 2001”. Southern Poverty Law Center. March 29, 2011. Retrieved January 12, 2012.
  2. ^ Sikh family receives death threats in us. (2012, March 07). Press Trust of India. Retrieved from http://www.ndtv.com/article/india/sikh-family-receives-death-threats-in-us-183543

UNITED SIKHS Policy Advocate speaks at 2013 National South Asian Summit

The 2013 National South Asian Summit, hosted by South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), was held in Washington D.C. from April 19-22, 2013. This year’s theme was “In Pursuit of Justice” and was held to learn about issues affecting South Asians in the United States, and to build skills and connect with other activists, government officials, and South Asian organizations.

UNITED SIKHS representative and policy advocate, Anisha Singh, spoke on the panel entitled: “Faith and Social Justice: Strengths, Stigmas, and Possibilities of Social Justice Through a Faith Lens.”  This panel was formed to address the struggles associated with incorporating religious viewpoints into progressive advocacy work. Just as the South Asian community in the United States is very diverse in its faith/religious identities, the panel consisted of representatives from Islam, Christianity, Hinduism & Sikhism. The moderator was Sethu Nair from Sadhana and panelists were  UNITED SIKHS’ Anisha Singh, Arun Lobo, a Catholic priest and activist, Shaykh Abdool Rahman of ICNA Relief, and Sadhana’s Sunita Viswanath.

Anisha spoke on her personal experiences with balancing religious views while being progressive in her activism.  She emphasized the importance of having confidence in one’s own faith and internalizing that for it not to be a factor when working with other organizations with alternating viewpoints on religious.  An example given by Anisha was the UNITED SIKHS advocacy work against bias-based bullying in conjunction with LBGT organizations.  By finding a common issue like bullying, UNITED SIKHS has been able to collaborate with progressive organizations despite our faith-based roots.  Anisha also spoke on the importance of finding common ground with other organizations and working towards that common goal despite differing opinions in other aspects such as religion, especially when alliance building is vital in advocacy work.

Several other panels took place during this summit as well. On Friday, April 19, 2013, the ChangeMakers Reception included special guest, Pramila Jayapal, founder of OneAmerica, who spoke on the significant impact on social change in the South Asian community.  The following day, the panel, “Law Enforcement in the Community: Exploring Multiple Strategies for Engagement” addressed the struggling relationship between law enforcement and South Asians, especially Sikhs and Muslims post-9/11.  Issues raised included the lack of cultural sensitivity by the FBI when questioning our communities and the abuse of surveillance and  stop-and-frisk on our community.  Another panel spoke on the rising South Asian population in the United States and the need for South Asians to be better engaged politically in order for our voice to be heard. The evening plenary spoke to the hearts of the audience by reflecting on the Oak Creek shooting nine months after it took place. The reflection reminded the South Asian community that Sikhs are particular targets for hate crimes and are still fighting twelve years after 9/11.  The need for mental health help for Oak Creek victims was also brought to light.

On Sunday, April 21, 2013, other panels were presented such as the “Profiling and Surveillance of the Muslim Community” panel where panelists spoke on the alarming civil rights violations by the NYPD through the city’s allowance of racial-based surveillance.  The lunch plenary included panelists from the around the globe who spoke on their efforts to help South Asian communities in our countries.  There were also panels addressing anti-immigrant laws and the best way to advocate for immigration reform on Capitol Hill.

On the last day of the summit, Anisha participated in Advocacy Day where representatives from the White House Administration and government agencies spoke on immigration reform, healthcare, and hate crimes.  These officials included: Kiran Ahuja from the White House Initiative on Asian American and Pacific Islanders, Mayra Alvarez from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Roy Austin from the U.S. Department of Justice  Felicia Escobar from the White House, and Gautam Raghavan from the White House Office of Public Engagement. After the discussions, Anisha joined others to Representative Joseph Crowley’s office and spoke with Staffer Jeremy Woodrum to speak on immigration issues. She informed him that Sikhs are most likely to be profiled and have their legal status in the United States checked based on post-9/11 stereotypes.  These profiling programs deter Sikhs and South Asians from reporting crimes, sharing information, and serving as witnesses due to their fear of profiling and deportation.  Mr. Woodrum agreed that these programs are counterproductive and that progressive immigration reform is necessary in this country.

Record number of attendees at this year's Summit.

Record number of attendees at this year’s Summit.

 

Anisha joins others on Faith and Social Justice panel.

Anisha joins others on Faith and Social Justice panel.

Kiran Ahuja speaks to participants on Advocacy Day

Kiran Ahuja speaks to participants on Advocacy Day.

 

Importance of Census Data for Sikh American Issues

As the vote in the Senate nears, the Census Project wanted us to prepare a report that shows how data from the American Community Survey (ACS) is used by the Sikh community. Here was our submission:

 

The American Community Survey (ACS) is a valuable tool used by UNITED SIKHS. The removal of this data from our organization would hinder our ability to see what our constituency entails and how it is growing.  The results of the Census are the only uniform measure of population, socio-economic, and housing data for the United States. The data is used to determine the issues of importance for the people. Specifically, it is of special importance for minority communities to study the trends and patterns of growth and to better understand the needs of the communities, based on numbers rather than estimations.

As a distinctly separate ethnicity, with anywhere between 500,000 and 1,000,000 Sikhs in the United States, Sikhs are a minority community that relies on the Census to better understand the needs of its community. Particularly, in 2010, UNITED SIKHS petitioned to have the Census provide a code for Sikhs to be identified as its own ethnicity. This would further expand our knowledge of our constituents’ size and needs. Until this code is provided, we have asked the Sikh community to write in “Sikh” under “Other Race” on Question No. 9 of the Census.

UNITED SIKHS has worked hard to advocate for Sikhs to be a separate race in the Census and the complete removal of ACS would reverse our efforts. After the suffering for a lack of recognition by government, being correctly enumerated by the Census Bureau is a very important step towards resolving the lack of recognition.

 

Since beginning our immigration into the United States over 130 years ago, Sikhs have faced many forms of discrimination by the general public and government. In the early 20th century, Sikhs were unable to go to public establishments and restaurants, were ridiculed publicly, and often subjected to physical harassment. Post 9/11, Sikhs have been targets of hate crimes from the general public, and have been subjected to unlawful racial profiling and harassment by law enforcement due to our appearance. It is very difficult for the Sikh community to engage political representatives, agencies, and law enforcement on these issues when we are unable to correctly state how many Sikhs there are. It is also difficult to promote awareness of the Sikh community, or to tackle the problems of the community through assistance from government, without an official enumeration. With the ability to write in “Sikh” in the “other race” category, UNITED SIKHS has the ability to get some count. However, the complete removal of ACS data would make our efforts in these matters impossible to pursue.

The United States prides itself on its progressiveness and inclusivity, from its foundation of “We the People,” and it is important to continue to have accurate counts of all the people in the country.

 

UNITED SIKHS signs onto VAWA Immigration Letter to Senate

On June 1, 2012, United Sikhs joined with over 100 other organizations signing onto a letter to the United States Senate requesting Senate Bill 1925 ensure the protection and safety of victims of violence by adhering closely to their previous bipartisan Senate bill. In addition, it asks that Sections 801, 802, 806, and 814 of H.R. 4970 and Section 1008 of S. 1925 be removed.
UNITED SIKHS has previously voiced its opinion against H.R. 4970, a VAWA bill that unfortunately passed which reverses protections for immigrant victims.
Please see the below for the letter to the Senate including the signature by UNITED SIKHS and other organizations:

June 1, 2012
Dear Senator:

As a diverse coalition of immigration, faith, labor, civil rights, human rights, and
community organizations serving and advocating on behalf of immigrant victims of
domestic violence, human trafficking, sexual assault, and other forms of violence,
we thank you for your continuing efforts to ensure final passage of a bipartisan
reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) that furthers the longstanding
aims of VAWA to protect victims of violence.
VAWA has a long history of uniting lawmakers with the common purpose of protecting
survivors of domestic violence. First enacted in 1994, Congress has reauthorized the law
in 2000 and 2005, each time with broad, bipartisan support. Over the years, Congress has
consistently recognized the vulnerability of noncitizen victims of violence and has
therefore enacted provisions in VAWA that enhance safety for victims and their children
and provide important tools for law enforcement to investigate and prosecute crimes.
Two weeks ago, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 4970, a VAWA
reauthorization bill, by a narrow margin of 222-205. Unfortunately, H.R. 4970 would
undermine years of bipartisan progress of advancing protections for immigrant victims.
Some of H.R. 4970’s provisions would actually make immigrants more vulnerable and
could endanger their lives.
With your support, in April the Senate passed its own VAWA reauthorization bill, S.
1925, by a vote of 68-31. Though S. 1925 is not perfect, the purpose of VAWA to ensure
the protection and safety of victims of violence would be far better served if a final bill
adheres more closely to the bipartisan Senate bill. To accomplish this goal, we also ask
that Sections 801, 802, 806, and 814 of H.R. 4970 and Section 1008 of S. 1925 be
removed during conference.
Each year VAWA laws and programs support thousands of women, children, and others
who fall victim to domestic violence, human trafficking, sexual assault, dating violence
and stalking. As the legislative process moves forward to reconcile the two different
VAWA proposals, we urge you to oppose provisions that would eliminate or roll back
protections for vulnerable immigrant victims.
Sincerely,
Advocates for Survivors of Torture and Trauma
African Services Committee
American Civil Liberties Union
American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO)
American Immigration Lawyers Association
American Jewish Committee
Americans for Immigrant Justice
Amnesty International USA
Arkansas Interfaith Alliance
ASHA for Women
Asian American Institute, Member of Asian American Center for Advancing Justice
Asian American Justice Center, Member of Asian American Center for Advancing
Justice
Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance
Asian Pacific American Legal Center, Member of Asian American Center for Advancing
Justice
Asian Pacific Islander Institute on Domestic Violence
Boston New Sanctuary Movement
Boston University Civil Litigation Program
Cardozo Human Rights and Genocide Clinic
Casa de Esperanza: National Latino@ Network for Healthy Families and Communities
Casa Esperanza
Center for Gender and Refugee Studies, Hastings College of the Law
Center for Pan Asian Community Services, Inc.
Center for Social Justice, Seton Hall University School of Law
CenterLink: The Community of LGBT Centers
Refugee and Immigration Ministries, Disciples Home Mission, Christian Church
(Disciples of Christ)
Church World Service, Immigration and Refugee Program
Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice Santa Barbara
Disciples Home Missions of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Disciples Justice Action Network
DREAM Activist Virginia
Families for Freedom
Farmworker Justice
Florida Coastal Immigrant Rights Clinic
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Futures Without Violence
Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society
Hutto Visitation Program
Human Rights Defense Center
Human Rights Watch
Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota
Immigration Center for Women and Children
Immigration Equality Action Fund
Indo-American Center
Institute on Domestic Violence in the African-American Community
Jesuit Social Research Institute, Loyola University New Orleans
Jewish Council for Public Affairs
Jewish Women International
Legal Momentum
Legal Services of New Jersey
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service
Mai Family Services
Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition
Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office
Mercy Investment Services
National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd
National Alliance to End Sexual Violence
National Asian Pacific Bar Association
National Black Justice Coalition
National Center for Transgender Equality
National Center for Victims of Crime
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
National Coalition for LGBT Health
National Council of Jewish Women
National Council of La Raza
National Employment Law Project
National Immigrant Justice Center
National Immigration Forum
National Immigration Law Center
National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health
National Network to End Domestic Violence
National Organization for Women
National Organization of Sisters of Color Ending Sexual Assault
National Resource Center on Domestic Violence
NC DREAM Team
Northwest Immigrant Rights Project
One Love Movement
Political Asylum Immigration Representation Project
Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network
Rural Organizing Project
Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S.
Sisters of Mercy Institute Justice Team
Sisters of Mercy West Midwest Justice Team
Sojourners
South Asian Americans Leading Together
South Asian Network
Tahirih Justice Center
Texans United for Families
The Episcopal Church
The Kansas/Missouri Dream Alliance
The National Council of the Churches of Christ of the USA
The Reformed Church of Highland Park
The Washington Defender Association’s Immigration Project
The Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence
The Women of Color Network
UC Davis Immigration Law Clinic
Union for Reform Judaism
United Church of Christ (Justice & Witness Ministries)
United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society
United Sikhs
United We Dream
Who Is My Neighbor? Inc.
Women for Reformed Judaism
Women Watch Afrika
Women’s Refugee Commission
YWCA USA

H.R. 4970 Undoes VAWA Protections

UnitedSikhs is in full support of the stance taken by the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) regarding Sections 801,802, and 806 of H.R. 4970. This bill reauthorizes the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) but weakens protections for migrant victims of violence and deters then from assisting law enforcement in the investigation and prosecution of crimes involving their abusers.
As background, VAWA was enacted in 1994 to assist immigrants who were victims of abuse by a U.S. Citizen or Legal Permanent Resident by requesting them to come forward to report crimes and seek help. These abusers chose to keep their immigrant spouse in undocumented status as a method of abuse. In the past, Congress has continuously renewed VAWA showing that domestic violence is unacceptable in this country no matter what ones status.
The changes proposed in the H.R. 4970 create obstacles for abuse victims who would like to report crimes and increase the danger for immigrant victims by taking away confidentiality and anti-fraud protections. Most importantly, it rolls back two decades of progress in protecting vulnerable immigrant victims. In particular, Section 801 allows adjudicators to interview abusers for VAWA claims. This eliminates confidentiality protections for victims and deters then from stepping forward. Section 802 states that crimes must be reported within 60 days and other unreasonable barriers for victims. In many domestic violence situations it takes a while for a victim to step forward and seek help; this does not leave much room for courage to grow. Finally, Section 806 eliminates the opportunity for victims to become Lawful Permanent Residents. This discourages victims from coming forth and working with law enforcement. What motivation does a victim of domestic violence have to expose their vulnerable situation without the security that they will have a chance to create their own life here?
As an organization promoting safety and protection for victims of abuse and immigrants in this country, UnitedSikhs believes it is important for us to stand together in empowering our communities with avenues to escape domestic violence and pursue their American Dream.

April 20, 2012: White House Screening of BULLY

27th April 2012, Eisenhower Executive Office Building- Washington, DC:

Participating in the screening of the film “Bully” at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building of the White House s. There were attendees from organizations and departments all over the nation including the Sikh Coalition, Department of Transportation representatives, Public School Superintendants, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and President Obama’s Senior Advisor, Valeria Jarrett.
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