I grew up in an environment where my grasp of English determined my intelligence and the colour of my skin determined my beauty. Undermining those with ‘heavy Indian accents’ or a dark brown skin tone were a part of the Indian mindset that what must be eventually achieved is “whiteness”. I attempted to be as white as possible with my brown skin.
When I came to America as a kid, I did not know much about systemic racism. It was a distant concept that I had not tackled in India. In my first week living in America, I was called so many names and racial slurs. I realized I knew of a very different world. Whiteness did not mean intelligence or perfection like I had previously believed. The white man has conned us.
At an Ethnic Media services briefing on March 26th, a few distinguished speakers gathered to discuss and explain the process of redistricting in the US.
Redistricting is the redrawing of political district boundaries – the boundaries of a district are redrawn to account for a relatively equal population and to have better representation in that community or district.
EMS panelist, Thomas A. Saenz stated, “Redistricting is the redrawing of district lines not just for Congress, but also for state legislatures, also for local bodies like city councils, county boards, boards of education, community college boards. Where those systems elect their representatives by district, rather than at large.” He further went on to state the reason for redistricting: “In the 1960s, the U.S Supreme Court concluded that each state and each locality must redraw their lines after the census to make the districts relatively equal in population.”
Once every ten years, after the census— the official count of the population— the district lines are redrawn to create a relatively equal population in each district and also have a better representation of people of colour in these districts and offices. This means that people of colour can engage and actively participate in communities and vote from city councils to legislative areas, it also helps create a better environment for minorities in their day-to-day lives.
Despite all these beautiful laws that should be protecting minorities, in the 2020 Census, the Trump administration was trying to change the way data was collected for the census from total population to citizenship population. This would mean that people under the age of 18, illegal immigrants, and any non-citizens in the U.S would not be counted in the census and lead to drastic misrepresentation.
The people that minorities may seek validation from are not even willing to count them as part of the population or have them represent a community in American society.
Leah C. Aden, who currently serves as Deputy Director of Litigation at the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund (LDF), stated that the next round of redistricting will be a struggle because in 2013, the Supreme Court “immobilized section 5 of the voting rights act.” This was a provision that stated some states require federal approval prior to redistricting, just to make sure that there was proper representation of people of colour as those states had elected officials who would finish the voice of POC to come up in power. But now, due to the immobilization, places like Georgia, or Texas, or Louisiana, will not need federal approval, potentially making it worse off for communities of colour.
The speakers at the EMS briefing gave concrete examples of how people of colour can be affected negatively in every community. The constant need to push out people of colour from finding equality and comfort in communities is just perturbing.
It’s been a series of events, the way white supremacy has constantly pitted people of colour against each other while simultaneously driving them out of political places that influence their daily lives.
I’ve seen Black people and Native American people scream on top of their lungs and seen Asian and Latino communities having to protest all day, just to be considered human. I’ve seen the privileged find comfort in their privilege and only raise their voice if the privilege isn’t extended to them. This year has perhaps been one of the biggest eye-openers…
As people of colour a lot of us feel tired. But I urge you to accept and love and define your own self. I urge you to unlearn the ideologies that have been instilled in you and learn that you are enough because you exist. You deserve respect because you are human. I urge you to decolonize your mind. To engage in communities and be the representation in society you want to see.
Swati Ramaswamy is a recent graduate from UC Davis and is an aspiring creative writer who loathes speaking in the third person.
Sumi Patel opened Sumi Beauty in 2007 and ran a thriving cosmetology business
on El Camino in Mountain View for more than 13 years. A single mom with two children, Sumi built a steady stream of customers seeking beauty treatments designed with desi clientele in mind. On offer were services like threading, waxing, skincare, and facials, as well as special heritage henna treatments and make-up for brides to be. Her salon was popular.
“I’ve been going here for over a year and have always been so pleased with the results! The women who work here….both do great jobs at the Indian beauty salon,” says a testimonial on her website.
As Sumi’s clients became regulars, she hired an aesthetician to help with the increased workload.
And then the pandemic hit. On March 15, 2020, Sumi Beauty shut down as Governor Gavin Newsom’s pandemic regulations were enforced, flatlining Sumi Patel’s source of livelihood.
In Southern California, Sumita Batra, the CEO of a successful, family-run chain of beauty studios called Ziba Beauty, made a tough decision even before Newsom issued his statewide lockdown orders. She shuttered all 14 branches of her stores and laid off her entire team of 144 employees so they could file for unemployment benefits. Batra used her personal savings to fund their final paychecks and to keep her business afloat.
As the pandemic placed communities of color under siege, minority-owned small businesses like the ones run by Sumi Patel and Sumita Batra were among the hardest hit.
While workers of color were impacted by job losses, women’s job losses were significantly higher than men’s, reported Chad Stone, Chief Economist at The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), at an ethnic media press briefing on March 12. Stone co-authored a study which found that “Workers born abroad, especially women, were more likely to work in the industries hit hardest by the pandemic and have suffered disproportionate job losses.”
For both Sumi(s), the impact of losing a lifetime of work was devastating.
Ziba Beauty had been in business for 33 years since it first opened shop in Artesia, CA. It had served more than forty-five thousand customers out of its 14 studios. Batra describes the experience of closing her stores as going “into a complete meltdown.” Losing her business felt “like losing a family member.”
Batra applied for PPP funds “using every contact in her book and everything in her power,” but it still took several weeks to arrive.
“But my business is very small, so I did not get that much,” said Patel, who had to let her aesthetician go.
One year after the pandemic hit, the business has dwindled at Sumi Beauty. Before the pandemic, Patel would see at up to 20 to 25 customers a day. “Today, I saw one person,” she notes, after which she waited for 3 hours for a walk-in customer. Customers aren’t calling to make appointments Patel added. She does not understand why. On weekends, business picks up a little. “Maybe I’ll have 4 or 5 customers.”
Her salon can only accommodate one person at a time, as pandemic restrictions are still in place.
She briefly reopened last year when restrictions were lifted before shutting down again as infections rose. “My business is reduced to only 10% of what it was before the pandemic. We’re not back to 100 %. This whole year has been very hard.”
Ziba Beauty remained closed, announcing that its priority was the safety of customers and employees.
In March 2021 Biden signed off on the ‘American Rescue Plan Act’ -a $1.9 Trillion COVID Relief Bill which the CBPP predicts will help millions and bolster the economy.
Chad Stone reports that the coronavirus relief package and its new round of stimulus payments are aimed at “getting the virus under control,” so that life can get back to normal, reducing the levels of hardship many Americans have endured over the past year, and which has been particularly acute among people of color and immigrants.” It will provide a stimulus for an economic recovery that had stalled “only halfway back to full employment,” he added.
But the Congressional Budget Office projects that the economy won’t return to its full potential until 2025. Today’s labor market, says the CBPP analysis, is much weaker than the headline numbers suggest.
According to the CBPP, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell recently testified that “The economic recovery remains uneven and far from complete, and the path ahead is highly uncertain. . . . There is a long way to go.”
Sumi Batra agrees.
“Touch services coming back too soon will be one of the things that end up spreading COVID.”
At the risk of losing her 33-year-old brand after shutting down last year, Batra was adamant that she would not reopen until it was safe to do so. “I’m not going to feel comfortable opening up my stores and risking my team as well as my customers.”
Touch services like threading operate in ‘intimate spaces’ says Batra, where aesthetician and client sit in close contact. So a ‘phased opening is the right approach’ because a threading artist works differently from a hairdresser.
Unlike e-commerce companies, touch service industries need a phased reopening to facilitate a safe recovery post pandemic. Batra is calling for a separate stimulus for the beauty and nail industries, and suggests they need to come together to create a recovery plan that will ensure the safety of practitioners and clients.
Sumi Patel says though her salon now is fully open her customers are ‘scared to come back,’ even though she has implemented health and safety changes. When threading eyebrows on a customer, for example, she wears a mask and anchors the thread around her neck instead of holding it in her mouth, which is the traditional technique. She attributes the drop in clients to the fact that many of her customers from the IT industry, may not need beauty services now that many work from home, do not socialize, or travel.
At Ziba Beauty which has gradually reopened about 6 stores, Batra is using PPE and stringent safety measures. At the start of each day, each studio is thoroughly sterilized by a UVC robot, and bookings, payments, check-in and check out are contactless.
For Sumi Patel who has two kids to support, the loss of income has been a challenge
“Right now it’s a tough time. My only hope is that my business will come back – I hope.”
Meera Kymal is the Contributing Editor at India Currents.
Anjana Nagarajan Butaney contributed to this report.
Are variants more contagious?
Will they cause worse infections?
Are current vaccines effective against mutating variants?
And should we take different precautions to keep safe?
Dr. Nirav Shah, MD, MPH, of Stanford University’s Clinical Excellence Research Center, fielded questions and concerns from ethnic media reporters at a press briefing on March 19. Along with other COVID 19 experts from the Bay Area, Dr. Shah shared information about new strains of the virus and safety net information for communities of color who want to sign up to get their vaccine shot.
“We cannot start to celebrate just yet,” said Shah, even though America reached an important milestone when the 100 millionth vaccine was administered on March 19.
The Story of Virus Variants
The emergence of variants has raised the specter that the current generation of vaccines might be rendered obsolete before they have even been fully rolled out. Are variants gaining ground and will they be immune to distinct vaccines before we reach herd immunity?
“It’s a race between how fast we get people fully vaccinated versus the level of disease in a community and how much transmission is going on,” explained Shah, about how a variant becomes dominant.
In heavily infected communities, the more virus particles there are, the greater the chance of one being different. All you need is a spike protein change, said Shah, which will give the variant a better chance of attaching to cells, so it spreads better and faster, becoming the dominant strain.
Simultaneously, as more people get vaccinated to combat COVID19, “the selective advantage of some particles relative to other particles, allow them to spread much faster.”
Now the race is on to get everyone vaccinated before the B.1.1.7. variant – the most dominant variant takes over.
“The story of virus variants is the story of evolution and natural selection,” added Shah.
Investigations of Variants
Currently, the CDC and WHO are studying the spread of three designated variants. Variants of interest -like the P2 which have ‘caused a cluster of infections’ in some countries, seem to be driving a surge in cases, though less is known about their transmissibility and lethality, or even if vaccine recipients are ‘fully neutralized against them or not’.
Their genetic sequence has some changes which suggest they may be more contagious, said Shah, and likely to be resistant to immunity bestowed by vaccines, treatments, or tests.
People are at greater risk from variants of concern that could reinfect survivors of certain Covid19 strains. Therapies and vaccines may be less effective against these strains which have “proven to be more contagious and cause more severe disease,” explained Shah.
Recent studies report that COVID-19 survivors and fully vaccinated people seem able to fight off infection from the virulent B.1.1.7 variant but may have less protection against the B.184.108.40.206 variant. Shah referred to research that shows the B.1.1.7 variant spreads about 50% faster and is more lethal, relative to prior strains of the virus.
The good news is that the existing range of vaccines (Pfizer, Moderna, Oxford/Astra Zeneca, and Novavax) have proven effective against this variant. But less is known about the transmissibility and lethality of the P1, B.220.127.116.11, and B.18.104.22.168 strains.
So far, however, assured Shah, no variants have met the definition for variants of high consequence which refer to strains that cause “more severe disease, more hospitalizations, and have been shown to defeat medical countermeasures” – like vaccines, anti-viral drugs, or monoclonal antibodies.
In the contest between vaccines and variants, “We will win the race by …vaccinating people as quickly…and broadly as possible” noted Shah.
An Annual Shot
Infectious disease experts liken variants to flu viruses which require new flu vaccines every year; scientists are even considering the possibility of multivalentvaccines designed to immunize against two or more strains of the virus.
“It’s a race of the mutant viruses against the vaccines…and to date, none of the mutants have escaped fully the major vaccines. The hope is that with minor modifications, we can get the continued evolution of the vaccines to match the evolution of the viruses.” It wouldn’t be surprising if the COVID vaccine was administered like a flu shot every year, added Shah.
Getting to Herd Immunity
The likelihood of reaching herd immunity will be a reality if at least 70% or more of the population are resistant to existing strains of the virus. However, as states relax public health restrictions as well as mask and social distancing mandates, herd immunity may be challenging to achieve. “More people getting infected simply means more chance of variants,” cautioned Shah.
I asked Dr. Shah if we would need a new generation of vaccines before the current vaccine roll is complete and if boosters would be introduced. “I am an optimist”, said Shah. “I imagine we would have booster shots by the fall but what’s important is that we all get that first shot, and make sure the vulnerable and elderly get theirs. That will make us collectively win”.
Dr. Shah reiterated that the Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines authorized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for emergency use, are still the most powerful tools to fight all the strains of COVID-19.
“This is a race for the world,” said Dr. Nirav Shah. “We know the virus doesn’t respect any borders, and so we should be as broad as possible in our thinking about getting the vaccine to everyone across the world.”
Anti‐Asian hate crimes surged by a staggering 149% in 16 of America’s largest cities, even though overall hate crime dropped by 7% in 2020, according to a fact sheet released by the California State University’s Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism.
With the stabbing of a 36 year Asian man in Chinatown In February, New York leapt to the top of the leaderboard for the most number (28) of racially motivated crimes against people of Asian descent in a major city, followed by Los Angeles (15) and Boston (14), in hate incidents reported to the police.
Data shows that the first spate of hate crimes occurred in March and April ‘amidst a rise in COVID-19 cases and negative stereotyping of Asians relating to the pandemic’.
The brutal spike in attacks on Asian and Pacific Island Americans (particularly seniors) amid an epidemic of anti-Asian violence ,“is a source of grave concern for our community,” said John C Yang, of AAJC. “While battling COVID19, unfortunately Asian Americans have also had to fight a second virus of racism.”
At an ethnic media briefing on February 19, civil rights advocates called for a unified response to counter racial and ethnic divisions, bigotry and incidents of hate.
“What we are experiencing is the America First virus,” declared Jose Roberto Hernandez, Chief of Staff, Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance, where hatred is manifesting in a rash of vicious attacks targeting Asian Americans.
STOP AAPI Hate, a national coalition aimed at addressing anti-Asian discrimination, received 2,808 reported incidents of racism and discrimination against Asian Americans across the U.S. between March 19 and December 31, 2020. Sixty nine percent of anti-AAPI attacks occurred in California, followed by New York City (20%), Washington (7%) and Illinois (4%).
According to STOP AAPI Hate, victims reported prejudice incidents that ranged from physical assault (8%), coughing and spitting (6%), to being shunned or avoided (20%). The vast majority (66%) reported verbal assaults.
In another study, hateful comments on social media also reflected racist trends sweeping the Internet. The term Kung Flu spiked in March and July last year in a Google key word search, while an analysis of Poll and Twitter posts from January 2020 saw a similar surge of Sino phobic racial slurs in March.
The most victimized group in the AAPI population – almost 41% – were people of Chinese descent while Koreans, Vietnamese and Filipinos also were targeted.
Another poll, added Yang, reported that 40% of Asian Americans either experienced discrimination or heard someone blame Asia or China for COVID-19. Many of the people who felt threatened are frontline workers in essential jobs at grocery stores, hospitals and community centers and custodial services.
Hate against Asian Americans is not a new phenomenon added Yang, referring to historical fear and prejudice that led to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the incarceration of 120 thousand Japanese Americans during World War 2, and the war on terror after 9/11 that impacted Arab Americans.
Asian Americans are often demonized for being ‘foreigners,’ or carriers of disease, but during the pandemic, said Yang, the ‘need to blame’ someone for the virus has exacerbated those fears and morphed into violence against the Asian American community.
Hateful rhetoric from President Trump, who referred to COVID19 as ‘the China virus, the Wuhan flu, and the China plague’ at political rallies, further inflamed racially motivated violence against Asian Americans.
“That has had a lasting impact”, stated Choi.
Her view was echoed by Manjusha Kulkarni, Executive Director of Pacific Policy and Planning Council, who pointed to “.. a very direct connection between the actions and the words of the former presidents and the administration.” She referred to policies initiated by the former administration to ‘alienate, isolate, and prevent our communities from getting the support they needed, and to reports her organization received, containing ‘the words of the president.’
“Words matter,” said Yang, calling on people to come together to dismantle the contagion of racism and hatred.
AAPI advocates drew the strong support of Marc Morial, President and CEO, National Urban League, who condemned the ‘climate of intolerance which has been created in this nation.” He reiterated his support for AAPI, accountability for perpetrators of violent acts, and commitment to cross cultural understanding “which is central to civil rights in the 21st century.
“Hate anywhere, is hate everywhere,” noted Morial. “We stand against efforts to demonize the Asian American community.”
So how is the nation addressing this issue?
“What we need to work on is establishing the checks and balances in society that grant equal power to everybody,” said Hernandez, “at home, at work, and in the community.” Yang called for a stand against hatred, for witnesses to report incidents, and for bystander intervention training, so people know what do when they witness accounts of hate. He urged setting up dialog at local levels.
At the national level, said Yang, Biden’s national memorandum against AAPI hate is a good start in terms of data collection and better understanding of the hate Asian Americans are facing. But the government needs to invest in communities – in victim response centers, financial resources for victims and cross-community, cross-cultural conversations,” – to break down the barriers of prejudice.
“Often our communities are pitted against each other,” said Kulkarni, “that is how white supremacy works.” She remarked that sometimes AAPI communities tend to turn on one other because of ‘close proximity’ geographically or socio-economically, while too many people in AAPI communities accept the model minority myth or anti-blackness “all too easily.”
Communities need to collaborate to combat this culture of hatred and take responsibility to work on solutions, rather than accept the premises of white supremacy, added Kulkarni. She called for healing rather than division. “We have so much in common …that we should be able to work together for the right, restorative and transformative justice.”
Everyone has a part to play in highlighting this issue. urged Yang. “The virus of racism is very contagious and affects all of our communities. We need to fight that virus together.”
As the COVID-19 vaccination program rolls out erratically across the US, research increasingly shows that health inequities underlying who gets infected will also affect who gets vaccinated.
In telling statistics reported by the CDC and KFF, people of color are more likely to be infected or hospitalized, and more likely to die from the coronavirus.
The numbers are stark.
Compared to whites, American Indians are 1.9 times more likely to be infected, African Americans nearly 3 times more likely to be hospitalized, and Latinx people 2.4 times more likely to die.
Asian Americans are the highest risk for hospitalization and death among any ethnic group. In San Francisco, it’s reported that Asian Americans consistently account for nearly half of COVID-19 deaths.
It’s impossible to ignore the disproportionate toll of the pandemic on racial and ethnic minorities. Even though all communities are at risk for COVID-19, the socioeconomic status of people of color, and their occupations in frontline, essential and infrastructure jobs puts them at greater risk of exposure to the coronavirus.
For minority communities, it means that where you live and where you work shapes how the virus impacts your health, while inadequate access to healthcare makes you more vulnerable to its consequences.
“The pandemic has exposed the “underlying health disparities, social determinants of health, systemic inequalities and discrimination contribute to the disproportionate impact the virus has had on all communities of color,” said Adam Carbullido of AAPCHO, at an EMS press briefing on February 12, about health inequities in the pandemic.
Health advocates predicted that an inequitable distribution of vaccines was inevitable, given the high rates at which Blacks, Latinos and other ethnic groups were being infected and dying in each wave of the pandemic.
This is borne out by data from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) which is tracking vaccine distribution. For example, fewer black people are getting vaccines despite a higher rate of COVID 19 cases. In Delaware only 6% of Blacks were vaccinated though 24% were infected, and in Louisiana, only 13% of Blacks received vaccines though 34% were infected, while in Mississippi, 38% of Blacks were infected but only 17% got the vaccine.
Given that it’s primarily Black and Latino workers in essential jobs, it’s imperative to consider who’s at high risk when making decisions about reopening the economy, he added.
If we cannot quantify racial disparity in vaccine distribution, warned Lloveras, it will be difficult to develop interventions to ensure vaccines are given to those who need it most.
Health disparities between whites and people of color that are impacting vaccine distribution, are “gaps that have become chasms,” said Lloveras. The vaccine roll out “inherently prioritizes a population that is not reflective of the people who are disproportionately affected by the coronavirus”, added Virginia Hedrick, of the California Consortium for Urban Indian Health.
In American Indian country, inequitable vaccine distribution is merely a reflection of the historical trauma inflicted on indigenous communities that has negatively impacted their health and wellbeing over the long term, said Hedric resulting in the highest rates of diabetes, heart disease and substance use disorders. Its only because of advocacy that the Indian Health Service has a separate vaccine reserve allocated to urban and tribal Indian American communities.
Barriers to Better Health & Vaccines
Several other factors create barriers to better health and getting a vaccine among people of color.
Ethnic minorities tend to live in densely populated areas which makes social distancing difficult, and often in multi generation family homes which put elders at risk. They may use public transportation which could expose them the virus, and lack health insurance or healthcare access.
Farmworkers and the elderly face similar barriers in the form of digital literacy, language barriers and internet access, said Lloveras. With stay at home orders in place, telehealth depends on who has access to technology. He suggested providing Internet access hotspots and community classes on computer literacy to expand digital access for underserved minorities.
The lack of a robust public healthcare system requires that we provide the technology to help people see a doctor and register for vaccines.
In Asian communities, added Carbullido, patients of Asian descent report fear in getting help they need because of emotional trauma caused by racism and xenophobic attacks associated with the virus.
Yet, many ethnic minorities are reluctant to get their shot because they mistrust the government. Kaiser Family Foundation’s vaccine tracker data reports ‘fear of side effects” prevents people from obtaining the vaccine.
Lloveras proposed ‘a gigantic digital patient engagement project’ to address vaccine hesitancy to set the path to herd immunity and a semblance of normal life .
When MLK Community Hospital, a 130-bed facility at the epicenter of the pandemic in Los Angeles County tried to transfer its sickest patients to nearby tertiary hospitals for oxygenation, they were repeatedly refused because because their patients did not have health insurance. When the vaccine roll out flatlined mid-February, high volume vaccine centers (LA Forum, Dodgers Stadium) in LA county closed mid -February, because supplies of vaccine doses ran out. Commercial pharmacies placed vaccination sites in smaller, less diverse towns like Huntington Beach, Irvine and Newport Beach, while Los Angeles, a city of 8 million was allotted just one site.
“In my estimation we weren’t prepared for COVID 19.” Carlyle concluded.
A Robust Rescue Package
Given the lack of a robust public health system, panelists urged Congress to bolster the public health infrastructure with a bold COVID 19 rescue package for testing, treatment, vaccine distribution.
They called for increased investment in public health and community-based organizations (CBOs) that serve marginalized communities which have more chronic medical issues and higher risk factors for complications of COVID19. CBOs are vital in reaching communities of color and other hard hit communities, by providing culturally and linguistically appropriate services where government and private institutions have fallen short. Supporting CBOs could mitigate the health inequities of the COVID19 crisis, said Carbullido.
The pandemic overwhelmed most healthcare systems which were not prepared or adequately funded creating crises like the MLKCH that Carlyle called “a perfect example of the inhumanity of equities in healthcare.”
But “the pandemic has not created these inequities,” concluded Hedrick, “it’s simply highlighting them.”
Ravi Ragbir, co-founder of the New Sanctuary Coalition, is a Trinidadian immigrant with a criminal conviction who has been fighting his own deportation since 2006. He says the existing immigration policy with its origins in the Chinese Exclusionary Act is extremely racist, and should be totally repealed.
Ragbir claims that even though the Biden administration wants to stop deportations, an enforcement agency like ICE has the unchecked authority and power to continue doing so.
Under Trump says Ragbir, ICE terrorized immigrant communities and families to force them to ‘self deport’. Many immigrants who lost Temporary Protected Status (TPS) were forced to flee to Canada. Ragbir himself was publicly bound by ICE agents and detained for deportation, to make an example of him. Though he won his challenge, ICE continues to surveil him and target over thousand immigration leaders and advocates in a ‘campaign of terror.’
So realistically, what we can expect from this progressive, pro-immigrant movement, said Sharry, is a plan for an immigration system that is fair, humane and functional. It’s goal will be to undo the cruelty inflicted on immigrants and refugees in recent years, and to pass transformative legislation that puts undocumented immigrants on a path to citizenship.
The Biden Immigration Proposal
According to Sharry, the Biden administration hit the road running on immigration.
In his first week, Biden signed six executive orders, issued two DHS memos to change immigration policy ,and introduced a sweeping legislative proposal.
The Bill ended the Muslim and African bans, ordered the reinstatement of DACA, stopped border wall construction, and imposed a 100-day moratorium on most deportations (though a judge in Texas has issued a temporary restraining order to thwart one of Biden’s key immigration priorities).
The proposed agenda winds down the MPP program which left thousands stranded in Mexico after being denied the right to apply for asylum, extended DED (Deferred Enforced Departure) for about 4000 Liberians, and offers guidelines to restrict the number of people at priority for arrest under immigration law.
It also has ended efforts by the Trump administration to remove undocumented immigrants from the Census count, for its use in determining congressional seats.
However, warned Sharry, Biden’s immigration bill faces a difficult path in Senate. It’s unlikely that a sweeping immigration bill will find bi-partisan support, but he pointed out that bills processed under budget reconciliation could pass through Congress by a simple majority of 51 votes.
The Biden administration is pushing the immigration issue said Sharry, because the pro-immigrant movement in the country has shifted the debate over immigration, due to activists who have reimagined how the rules around immigration – on deportation for example – need to be enforced.
“We have to give credit to the people who have been organizing from the ground up for the last 20 years,” he noted, because advocates of the immigrant rights movement have “shifted the center of the debate and made what once seemed a little radical seem common sense. “
“The public is way out in front of the politicians on this one, remarked Sharry, adding that “How this plays out politically, is that the wind is at the backs of the Biden administration.”
Public opinion has shifted in favor of immigrants, even though “Trump demonized immigrants and made it his signature issue,” stated Sharry.
It forced the public to think about immigration when friends and community members were subjected to deportation, families were being separated, and toddlers were ripped away from moms and dads at the border. The wedge issue of immigration began losing its edge.
Instead, Trump’s nativism backfired with the majority of Americans, remarked Sharry.
His view was echoed by John Yang of AAJC, a DC-based civil rights organization, who added that the American public believes in a more inclusive America. He urged the need to find ways to engage with the small segment that fears the browning of America. Ragbir added that regular citizens living amidst the trauma of job loss and the pandemic, now realize how challenging life is for non-citizens.
According to AAJC, current immigration patterns show that close to 40%of all immigrants come from Asia. It’s predicted that by 2055 the largest group of immigrants will be Asian American. So the pathways to citizenship offered by the US Citizenship Act is an “exciting” drive toward ‘racial equity’ said Yang, likening it to the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) which was part of a whole civil rights legislation.
The 11 million undocumented includes almost 1.7 million Asians, about 120 thousand of whom are eligible for DACA and 15 thousand (specifically Nepalese), who qualify for Temporary Protected Status (TPS).
It also includes the Reuniting Families Act which focuses on family immigration, explained Yang. Its inclusion is a victory for Asian American advocates who have fought to protect families, a cornerstone issue of Asian American immigration.
Approximately 70% immigrate to the US via this provision while only a small minority come to the US on H-1B, high tech or STEM work visas, Yang clarified. The majority of Asian Americans, like immigrants before them, he added, have come here to make better lives because they believe in American values, and want to contribute to society.
What the US Citizenship Act does for families
The US Citizenship Act adds green cards to clear the long backlog (almost 20 years for certain countries) and reunite families. It also reduces the backlog for employment based visas like the H-1B and H-4 for families stuck on temporary status, and protects children who fall out of status when they turn 21. (Read about the H-4EAD visa here)
Families on temporary status are allowed to remain in the US while they await permanent residency and family unity waivers are provided so families can sponsor their family members. The bill also promotes diversity, covering LGBTQ equality, orphans, and foreign veterans who fought alongside Americans, among other provisions.
Significantly, the bill includes legislation that will make it harder for a future president to reinstate these bans by a simple executive order.
Immigration attorney Cyrus Mehta explained that the current immigration law is ‘woefully inadequate’ with respect to legal immigration and skilled immigrants. Not enough green cards are allotted to employment based categories and investor categories based on country of birth, he said. It will take an Indian H1-B visa holder several decades before they can receive green cards, while employers have to wait years for a skilled worker to get permanent residency.
The bill attempts he said, to recapture visas that haven’t been used, in order to help reduce backlogs. Employment and business reforms also include a 60-day freeze on artificial wage increases for H-1B visas that impact employers sponsoring highly skilled workers.
The Public Charge Rule
One of most contentious immigration issues under the Trump administration was the Public Charge Rule which was implemented in a way to slow the demographic shift in the country. It administered an immigrant wealth test and assessed the use of public benefits such as healthcare, housing or nutrition, to deny people their green card.
It meant that In the middle of a pandemic, people were afraid to get healthcare, tests or vaccines, for fear of falling foul of the system.
Immigrants need to be fully included in the Biden administration’s agenda, added Hincapié, to ensure that inclusion and equity are at the core in every federal department. Labor, Education, Health and Human Services, and the Covid Task Force, for example, should closely look “at how their policies impact immigrants in this country.”
Given what immigrants and the country have been through, said Hincapie, the last four years have felt nothing less than a war on immigrant families. But from day one, the Biden/Harris administration has shown a strong commitment to unequivocally centering immigrants in the narrative and to undoing the harm of the past.
“Today we are so hopeful,” said Hincapié, that the new administration will collectively build a twenty first century immigration system “that is truly grounded in racial, economic and gender justice.”
The incoming Biden-Harris administration has an opportunity to immediately revoke implementation of the public charge rule, easing anxiety for millions of immigrants who have denied themselves federal benefits over the past three years for fear of losing their ability to upgrade their immigration status.
“Public charge will be a front-burner issue for the new administration because it is so entwined with our current public health crisis and connected to the pandemic,” said Daniel Sharp, chief of the Office of Immigrant Affairs in Los Angeles County’s Department of Consumer and Business Affairs. “We do expect the new administration to prioritize the issue,” he said in an interview with EMS, noting that President-elect Joe Biden had committed to ending the rule while campaigning for office.
If Democrats take back the Senate with the Jan. 5 Georgia run-off election, the incoming Congress has an opportunity to permanently remove public charge from the immigration code, said Sharp. He noted that if it is not permanently removed, a future administration could once again implement the rule, which has had an enormously chilling impact on immigrants even before it was formally rolled out by the outgoing Trump administration.
“It is going to take a multi-year effort to undo the harm that this rule change has set in,” he said.
The public charge rule, which was introduced with the Immigration Act of 1882, is a means test used to determine ineligibility for immigration or residency status. The seldom-used rule can be used by consulates abroad to determine whether an applicant could ever become completely dependent on public benefits; and by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to deny a green card to those unable to essentially pass a wealth test. Factors such as age, the ability to speak English, and future earning capabilities are used as determinants of whether or not to grant a visa or green card.
USCIS can deny a green card to immigrants who have ever used Supplemental Security Income; Temporary Assistance for Needy Families; general assistance cash benefits (welfare); Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly called food stamps); Section 8 Housing or Rental Assistance; or federally funded Medicaid.
Public charge is not invoked during the naturalization process.
Critics of the rule have called it a “cruel wealth test,” used to keep poor immigrants out of the U.S. In the early 1900s, the rule was frequently invoked to bar immigrants from the developing world for permanent residency in the U.S. In more recent years, the rule has been less frequently invoked: prior to 2019, less than one percent of all immigration cases were denied based on the public charge rule.
Currently, more than 10.3 million immigrants use some form of federal benefits.
Manjusha Kulkarni, executive director of the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council, noted that when President Donald Trump hinted in 2017 that he was going to implement the little-used rule, “the news spread like wildfire in the immigrant community.”
Even before the rule was finalized in August 2019, immigrants began denying themselves federal benefits, including school lunch programs, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which are not considered in public charge determinations; immigrants nonetheless dis-enrolled their children from the benefits, fearing possible impact to their immigration status.
Kulkarni referred to data from Health Affairs which reported that 260,000 immigrant children had been dis-enrolled by their families from receiving Medicaid since 2018 and 70,000 children were no longer enrolled in SNAP.
A paper published by the Journal of Pediatrics in December noted the severe impact of the public charge rule on children. “By tying the use of vital public health programs to immigration and residency status, the Administration is forcing a choice between seeking critical services or securing status in the United Status,” said the authors of the study: Nina Patel, Swapna Reddy, and Natalia Wilson of Arizona State University. They described the rule as impacting the most vulnerable children in the nation.
“Current anti-immigrant sentiment, rhetoric, and policy changes, such as the public charge rule, have resulted in a culture of fear, misinformation, distrust, and isolation, all of which have health implications,” noted Patel, Reddy, and Wilson.
Despite the current uncertain future of the rule, Kulkarni encouraged immigrants to avail of federal benefits, especially during the pandemic. “It is so important for all of us to stay as safe and as healthy as possible at this time, when we are living under the greatest public health crisis of our lifetime.”
“People should not go without meals, COVID-testing and care, and housing benefits,” she said, noting that the Biden Administration is likely to take a “180-degree turn” to remove the rule.
Sharp noted that immigrants in California also began dis-enrolling from Medical, a state-funded program, for fear of losing their immigration status. “People were confused,” he said, adding also that students dropped their applications for federal scholarship programs, which are not considered in public charge determinations. Benefits were also dropped by U.S. citizen children living in mixed-status families with undocumented parents or siblings.
At the start of the pandemic, Sharp’s office began receiving a record number of calls from immigrants who were concerned about accessing benefits. “The people most impacted by the pandemic were not applying for public benefits,” he said.
Sharp characterized it as a “double whammy.” Undocumented people, despite being gainfully employed with deductions taken out of their paychecks, did not qualify for unemployment insurance benefits, and they were not accessing benefits for which they were qualified to receive, he said.
The public charge rule is written so as not to be invoked during a national crisis, but immigrants have little understanding about the nuances of the rule, said Sharp. National election results, which brought Biden to office, held out a glimmer of hope for immigrants “that better times are ahead in the near future,” he said, but added: “We have been down this road before. There have been so many moments of on again, off again in this tennis match of implementation.”
After the final rule was rolled out in August 2019, it was immediately blocked by several lower courts.
On Jan. 27, the U.S. Supreme Court granted the administration’s Public Charge: New Ethical Considerations for Adjustment Cases and allowed public charge to be implemented nationwide beginning Feb. 24, just as the COVID pandemic began to take force in the U.S.
On Nov. 2, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals blocked public charge in the Cook County v. Wolf case. Amy Coney Barrett, now a Supreme Court Justice, wrote the dissenting opinion, siding with the Trump Administration’s theory that immigrants must be able to prove self-sufficiency. That case will now be heard by a full panel in the 7th Circuit. Meanwhile, immigrants in Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin must continue to file the I-944 form, a declaration of self-sufficiency, with their adjustment of status applications.
On Dec. 2, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in the City and County of San Francisco v. USCIS case, blocked the rule from being implemented in 15 states, including California.
Kulkarni said it is highly unlikely that the incoming administration will appeal the Ninth Circuit ruling. Consulates abroad have been blocked from implementing the public charge rule since July.
While trawling the Internet for part-time jobs in September after being furloughed from her travel company in March, Sumathi Rao, a New York-based travel agent, spotted a job offer in her FB newsfeed she could not pass up. It seemed too good to be true
The Fouray Foundation (account now suspended) had an opening for a Fundraising Assistant. Their pitch was promising. She could work from home. Her responsibilities would include helping her manager Didiane Marcheterre (possibly an alias), write to donors for contributions. Funds from the charitable foundation would supposedly support non-profit hospitals, medical workers, and healthcare projects. The salary, at $1000 a week, thought Rao, would nicely supplement the $300 lost wages assistance New York state benefit offered to eligible workers looking for jobs. It would serve as a cushion until the pandemic eased off and her old job, hopefully, was reinstated.
So Rao contacted Fouray. A follow-up message invited her to send her resume and ask questions about ‘the excellent option’ posted in the ad.
After a promising interview with Marcheterre, Rao was set to go. All she needed to do next said Fouray, was to buy ‘bitcoins’ from an ATM, so they could ‘deposit money in her account’ via a direct deposit authorization. The odd request raised an alarm bell. Rao says she trusted her instinct and responded with a firm no. And that was that.
When recounting her experience with former colleagues at her travel agency, Rao discovered that several of them had also been approached by Fouray. A little more digging revealed complaints filed by other victims against the foundation for fraud. Rao promptly reported Fouray to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). An internet search on the Fouray Foundation will now only produce an ‘Account Suspended’ message.
With record unemployment inflicted by the economic downturn and job losses, people like Sumathi Rao are simply looking to make ends meet. Scammers are taking advantage of their desperation with false promises of making money in the financial crisis, warned attorneys from the FTC at an EMS ethnic media briefing on December 15.
So if an opportunity seems too good to be true, it usually is. During the pandemic, scammers are ramping up fraudulent get rich schemes across the nation. “Scammers make big promises when pitching a fake money-making opportunity,” explained Rhonda Perkins, an attorney with the FTC, “but that’s just an income illusion.”
Impact of Income Scams
The volume of reports to the FTC “reached the highest levels on record in the second quarter of 2020,” added Kati Daffan. In the first 9 months of 2020 alone, people reported losing more than $150 million to harmful scams.
The FTC has joined forces with federal, state, and law enforcement agencies to announce action against deceptive income scams, said Daffan, pointing out that the 15 FTC cases represented in the sweep accounted for an alleged injury of more than a billion dollars.
Who Gets Targeted?
Scams tend to target certain communities, stated Daffan, who went on to describe scams currently under investigation at the FTC. In one case, scammers were pitching fake sou-sous savings clubs and illegal pyramid schemes on social media at communities that have historically engaged with Sou Sous – which are rotating savings clubs originating out of West Africa and the Caribbean. They promise big payouts to individuals out of a common savings fund sponsored by trusted family and friends. The majority of people in these fake schemes end up losing considerable amounts of money said Daffan.
Another FTC case featured a scam pitched at Latina women through Spanish language TV ads, which proposed a work-from-home scheme to make money from selling luxury goods to others in their community. An investment scam called Raging Bull promised profits through secret trading techniques to older people, retirees and immigrants – they lost at least $137 million in the last three years. Other scams targeted students, veterans and college age adults in a variety of bogus opportunities.
According to FTC data, the average loss to scam over $500 affected more people who lived in zip codes that skewed older, but when the loss to scam was less than $500, those affected tended to live in zip codes with a black majority population. But more data is required said Daffan, to fully determine who is getting affected by income illusion schemes.
Operation Income Illusion
In an effort to combat income scams the FTC has launched Operation Income Illusion. The campaign is designed to raise awareness about consumer fraud and counter the proliferation of get rich quick scams – the many pyramid and chain letter schemes – flourishing on social media.
Daffan explained that the campaign wants to alert people to soundbites and false promises used in business coaching and job scams to catch people’s attention about making money. She warned consumers to watch for options that talk about working from home or starting their own business with little time and effort. People need to be on their guard about prospective fake jobs, investment schemes, coaching courses, business offers, pyramid schemes, and reshipping scams, cautioned Daffan.
An FTC video offered additional advice on how to avoid income scams which come in many forms, and offer money-making opportunities online, through real estate, in the stock market, or by selling goods. But the most obvious sign of a scam are ones that promise megabucks if consumers use ‘their methods.’
Spot the Sham
Perkins suggested looking for absurd claims in a typical pitch that includes words and phrases like – ‘amazing wealth’
succeed online’ ‘earn hundreds of dollars per hour from home’ ‘what if an online millionaire offers you his entire business no strings attached’
These sort of offers only guarantee only one outcome warned Perkins – that buyers will be out of their hard-earned money. Most scams guarantee success in a short time, which is unrealistic. She urged people to do their research before investing in any income schemes, and search online using the company name with keywords like scam, complaint, and review, and to be wary of glowing testimonials that could be fake or misleading. The best course of action said Perkins, would be for consumers to simply walk away.
So Buyer, Beware. If you see one of these offers, remember that the only people getting rich are the scammers selling the system.
Meera Kymal is a contributing editor at India Currents
But what puzzles the pundits is why white people (74 million) and some minorities voted the way they did. Though some voting patterns remain predictable, why did Trump win 3 out of 10 non-white voters? Why did half the country support a candidate whom the other half finds unacceptable?
The threadbare cliche that none of these groups (white, brown, or black) is monolithic, does not sufficiently explain why some of the electorate voted to support a norm-breaking candidate, whose views hew racist, sexist, xenophobic, disconnected and delusional, and who is responsible for a mangled response to a pandemic that has taken more than 300 thousand lives.
What do we really know about who voted for Trump and why?
Experts at a December 11 Ethnic Media briefing shared insights into voter turnout and the race gap in a contentious election.
The panel agreed that exit polls don’t tell the whole story. Polls only reflect those who voted, not those who did not cast a ballot. Despite a record number of votes in 2020, said Mindy Romero a professor at USC, what’s significant is that 85 million eligible voters did not turn out at all.
Trump got 31% vs 33% for Biden of eligible voters, among whom whites are a majority. So the voting electorate is not really representative of the voting population, stated Romero, because “disparities are entrenched in our electoral and prevent people from participating.’ If disparities were eliminated, Biden would have had a stronger mandate.
But there’s more at stake than counting voter turnout urged influential Berkeley sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild. “It’s in our interest to get into the mindset of the 74 million who voted for Trump” because of the president’s partisan efforts to create divisiveness in the electorate.
Hochschild, the author of Strangers in their Own Land, shared her insights into the rise of conservative American voters. Her research, based on intensive interviews of Tea Party enthusiasts in Louisiana, drills down into the fundamental values and concerns of marginalized white voters that shaped turnout in this election.
Their story, she said, reveals the ‘anger and mourning’ on the right that’s fueling a sizable divide between Republicans and Democrats who don’t really seem to understand each other.
The left cannot assume that right-leaning voters with MAGA hats and pumping fists ‘are sitting pretty’ said Hochschild. That image is an illusion, describing very few who live in the Trump heartland around Eastern Kentucky and Appalachia, which is the focus of her current research.
In interviews, Trump supporters admit that life isn’t better for them after four years, but they are still voting for him. Why? Because, Hochschild explained, Trump has a way of ‘insinuating himself into the dominant paradigm of evangelical Christians, and reaching into his base using the trifecta of a ‘treasonous press,’ the deep state, and his bout with COVID19, to position himself as a victim ‘suffering for them,’ and that he alone can save them. Many Christians see Trump as a savior, said Hochschild.
On the other hand, Democrats, despite their education and curiosity tend to live in urban enclaves and don’t have a presence in disadvantaged, white strongholds. Such political bubbles leave many in these communities feeling invisible explained Hochschild. Support for Trump is rooted in disillusionment and anger at the system.
White Anger and the Trump supporter
What prompts the right-wing hostility of Trump supporters, argues Hochschild, is “an anguishing loss of honor, alienation and engagement in a hidden social class war,” lying hidden beneath their difficult struggle for the American Dream.
Trump supporters get their picture of reality not just from Fox News but also mainstream media such as CNN and MSNBC. But their impressions of non-white newscasters and black football stars with multimillion dollar deals, have heightened their sense of being left out. To them, people of color appear to be getting ahead and receiving special treatment in what is perceived as a ‘put down of white men,’ said Hochschild, adding that they regarded themselves as ‘poor and dumb,’ and actually felt that life was rigged against them; they felt they were ‘sinking as others are rising.’
Ironically, this sense of victimhood has made ‘a lot of white people…blue collar, high school educated white (Christian) people’ and pockets of poor folk, “feel like a minority group themselves” that is in decline, explained Hochschild.
One of her respondents had grown up in a trailer park where drug abuse and crime was rampant; he pointed out that communities like his were not dissimilar to those in the Bronx and Detroit, yet the media tended to portray poor whites in a more negative light.
Trends show that “white people feel the ground shifting under their feet.” Trump has harnessed their fear of a shifting society and losing their dominant status, to fan white anger and normalize the Trumpian viewpoint. “Anger is a palpable force,” said Phoenix.
But anger against an unresponsive society does not drive people of color in a similar way, he countered. While white anger manifested in a 2016 Trump victory, there is a racial anger gap prevents black people from mobilizing their anger.
“Race shapes who gets to be publicly angry over politics’ stated Phoenix. It determines how the polity, the media treats groups inequitably based on how they air their grievances.
Contrary to the stereotype of the angry black man, people of color express less anger at the system than their white counterparts.
White people express anger over politics by canvassing for candidates, going to the voting booth, donating, or contacting election officials. People of color are less likely to do so, though they may protest or boycott, said Phoenix. His research indicates that when people of color encounter threats, they are more likely to withdraw from politics or pursue alternative forms of action.
“Anger consistently mobilizes White Americans toward a wide range of political actions more effectively than African Americans,” writes Phoenix
The Media Narrative has to Change
Trump and his media echo chamber have continued to fuel this white anger in the run up to election 2020, and deepen the divide between Democrats and Republicans. Panelists agreed that the media narrative needs to change.
“There are lots of stories that could be written to reach across this divide,” suggested Hochschild, to frame migrant stories of both people of color and whites – Latino and Appalachian for example – so people can form a common, human connection. While we read about migrant camps on the Mexican border, the mainstream press does not cover out-of-work Appalachians in camped outside Cincinnati. We need stories that remind us that “there is work that Latinos do, that is not competitive with what whites do.”
We also need to address the idea of ‘displacement’ said Hochschild, because many of these people are not entitled – they’re depressed and a little bit frightened. “Labelling people as racist is going to backfire.”
The media plays a key role in educating the electorate about race and power, democratic norms and how the electoral process works, added Romero. She warned that the media sets up the narrative when they blame certain groups for failure in voter turnout. Instead of playing the ‘blame game’ after every election – young people were apathetic, why did black people vote for Trump, why didn’t more Latinos vote – Romero suggested the narrative must evolve from handwringing, to understanding the nuances in policy preferences among groups and where people are coming from, especially with historically underrepresented populations. We need to reach out and honestly address racial bias to begin a positive dialogue and encourage people to get past their differences, urged Romero.
The racial divide is underscored by misconceptions Democrats and Republicans have about each other, said Hochschild. In a survey Dems estimated that 50% of Republicans felt racism is still a problem, when that number was actually 80%. Republicans estimated that half of Democrats felt that police were ‘bad people’ when the actual number was lower (15%). Both sides are unable to predict what each think, and when perception of the other is so skewed, they really need to change tactics.
It won’t be easy, but Americans need to ’abandon party tribalism’, lower their guard, and listen to really understand each other, if they want to forge a less polarized, more inclusive country.
Meera Kymal is the contributing editor at India Currents
What was startling about the two domestic violence (DV) videos that aired recently on TV and on social media was not just their disturbing subject matter featuring battered women, but the frequency with which such content appears on the news during this pandemic.
On TV recently, a PSA created by a DV support group shows a woman raising her folded fist on a video call with a friend, silently signaling an appeal for help without raising the suspicions of a man behind her in the room.
And in a real life incident in the UK reported by the BBC, an injured woman used a silent code (55) on a 999 emergency call to alert authorities of an attack where she was unable to speak.
Both videos reflect the rise in DV incidents this year in the aftermath of COVID lockdowns, which have forced vulnerable women into dangerous proximity with abusive partners. As more people stay at home due to the pandemic, the risk of domestic violence (sexual, verbal and physical abuse) is increasing say experts.
In a recent report, The New England Journal of Medicine described domestic violence or intimate partner violence (IPV) as a ‘pandemic within a pandemic’. According to their research, many IPV victims are trapped with their abusers by stay-at-home orders intended to protect the public from the spread of infection by COVID19. As a result, across the US, states are reporting a spike in domestic violence cases during the pandemic, creating a national public health crisis.
An NIH study says that “In Portland there was a 22% increase in arrests related to domestic violence, Jefferson County Alabama experiencing a 27% increase in domestic violence calls during March 2020 compared to March 2019, and New York City experiencing a 10% increase in domestic violence calls during March 2020 compared to March 2019.”
The National Domestic Violence Hotline tracked a significant surge in calls from victims between March through May, reporting a 9% increase in total calls received, with 6210 callers citing COVID 19 as the reason for an escalation in abuse. Another study in May reported a 10.2 percent increase in domestic violence calls to the police for service.
But though domestic-violence hotlines expected more demand for services as shelter-in-place mandates were enforced, DV organizations say that in some parts of the country, “the number of calls dropped by more than 50%” as victims fear drawing attention to themselves in their households. Experts believe that the lockdown has prevented victims from safely connecting with services during isolation, not that IPV rates have dropped during the hidden pandemic.
So how do DV victims navigate out of dangerous situations when trapped at home, and send out an SOS without saying a word?
Nowadays, as most interactions with other people occur online, support groups are devising strategies for survivors to ask for help that do not leave a digital trace. In the videos that aired, DV victims employ tactics that demonstrate hand signals and options that are safe to use. Certainly, increased public messaging and media coverage are one way to take IPV out of the shadows and show victims how to reach out and ask for help without being afraid.
But why has COVID19 exacerbated the DV crisis and what does it say about the culture we live in?
At a briefing hoisted by EMS on December 4th, health advocates shed light on various factors that have contributed to the DV crisis during the pandemic, and the DV questions that need to be asked.
“One in three women and one in ten men experience domestic abuse in their lifetime,” stated Bay Area psychiatrist Dr. Ravi Chandra. He explained that the anger and abuse that drives DV and other forms of violent behavior, derives from a culture of abusive power that’s reflected in our society. We live in a world said Chandra, where the racial trauma of George Floyd’s murder and the BLM movement for example, have an underlying aggravating cause that’s rooted in strains of a ‘narcissistic, self-centered, tribalistic personality and culture.’ These characteristics manifest for example, in political leaders or some members of law enforcement who wield ‘power, suffer from ‘self-centered delusion’, and employ ‘subordination, silencing and scapegoating’ to inflict trauma and retain power.
“Abusive power is given far too much license and is yet hidden in the shadows,” stated Chandra. The individualistic, antagonistic, aggressive, self-centered masculine power that Chandra describes is exemplified for instance, in the police officer who knelt on a dying George Floyd, while the legal recourse that shields police officers, is indicative of the entitled ‘wink and a nod’ directed towards law enforcement, when they use influence and the justice system to protect abusive officers with impunity.
These incidents are “a metaphor for the abusive household,” said Chandra, in which family members ‘look the other way’ rather than deal with the inappropriate behavior and assault that IPV victims endure from a parent, spouse or caregiver. We are all affected by a society which values money and power, especially masculine power, as more important than a relationship, said Chandra, adding that when compassion and common humanity become subordinated and under assault, it becomes difficult for DV victims ‘incarcerated’ in a household’ to fight their way out.
“COVID underscores risk factors for domestic violence,” noted Chandra. The pandemic has exposed the effects of living in an abusive household and the psychological experience of victims subjected to devaluing, bullying, threats, intimidation, coercion, gaslighting, dehumanization, calls for violence and more. Isolation encourages opportunities for psychological aggression and control, added Chandra. Furthermore, financial stressors – frustrations over job loss, and income insecurity are risk factors that have contributed to the rise in DV cases.
Chandra also warned that DV victims have suffered setbacks during the Trump Presidency. In 2019, the Department of Justice (DOJ) narrowed the definition of domestic violence to only physical aggression, ruling out psychological aggression. And, the administration has not reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act which has been partially credited for a 60% drop in violence against IPV victims between 1996-2010.
While women’s rights should be upheld, Chandra urged that men be given space to ‘come to terms’ with their own histories of childhood trauma and abuse. “Racism has disempowered and devalued BIPOC men in America,” Chandra stated, and this is an added psychological stress that needs examination.
Chandra suggested the need to deconstruct racism as well as masculine entitlement to power, to better understand how male vulnerability and ‘a friendship crisis among men’ makes them more isolated than women, and unable to comprehend how mutual relationships work. Domestic violence stems from this disconnection he explained.
For now though, it will take more than hand signals and heart searching for victims to unravel and emerge from the twisted knot of domestic violence. But help is at hand from advocates via the sources listed below.
As Chandra hopes, “As a psychiatrist and humanist, I hope that we can all work to create an equitable society where all have access to the all – important human journeys of identity, belonging and wellness.”
Meera Kymal is the contributing editor at India Currents
The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available to assist victims of intimate partner violence 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by calling or texting (800) 799-SAFE (7233).
For instance, while the US leads the world with more than 14 million cases and over 276 thousand deaths, according to the John Hopkins Coronavirus Research Center, India accounts for only 10% of deaths globally and has the highest number of recovered patients of COVID-19 at 94%, even though its coronavirus caseload is second only to the US.
With such a significant share of the world’s coronavirus cases, shouldn’t COVID-19 have been more devastating in India?
“Then again it has not,” announced Krishnaraj Rao, an investigative journalist from Mumbai, India, at an EMS briefing (November 20) on the pandemic.
“Something strange has been happening within the Indian subcontinent and neighboring regions,” said Rao. “For some strange reason our mortality rate per million is one eighth and our total cases seem to be in the region of one sixth per million.”
As COVID-19 began its inexorable spread across the world, the WHO recommended safety precautions to protect against the virus – physical distancing, wearing a mask, well ventilated rooms, avoiding crowds and close contact, and regularly washing hands.
But in an outcome that has puzzled epidemiologists and scientists alike, India seems to be experiencing a low mortality rate from the coronavirus, stated Rao, despite the crowded conditions in which many urban Indians live.
A large proportion of urban dwellers in a developing country like India lack access to adequate healthcare facilities and maintain poorer sanitation and hygiene practices which are known to be responsible for a higher incidence of communicable diseases. So the virus was expected to have caused many more deaths in densely populated communities in India than it has.
Urban Indians are ‘badly housed,’ explained Rao, using Mumbai as an example to explain why crowded Indian cities offer a fertile petri-dish for catastrophic coronavirus outbreaks. “I would say that close to 60% of the population of urban India lives closely packed together in slums.”
In a metropolis like Mumbai, home to over 20 million and India’s largest city, nearly one million people live cheek by jowl in Dharavi, one of the world’s largest slums.
“Houses are no more than two feet apart. Each house is no larger than a 10 by 12 room,” said Rao.
Each home houses about 10 to 12 people, closely packed together. It makes social distancing nearly impossible, while access to basic hygiene essentials, including toilets and hand washing are limited.
“There is only one public toilet per every two or three hundred slum dwellers,” explained Rao, highlighting the less than hygienic conditions in slums like Dharavi. “Face masks, social distancing…are close to non-existent. We take things like face masks, temperature checks and sanitizing very lightly,” he claimed.
“If it were a pandemic that was ravaging us because of a lack of social distancing,” asked Rao, why are the slums relatively less impacted than expected? And, despite overcrowding on the suburban railways, he adds, “the crisis has hit us less hard than anticipated.”
While epidemiologists attribute India’s low mortality rate to under-reporting, and even though Rao himself expected undercounting, he alleged that at least in Dharavi, there is no evidence of it. “I don’t see the bodies piling up in the streets… or the hospitals,” nor has he noted any alarming rises in the body count.
Rao claimed he is voicing “a mainstream belief” felt across economic classes and demographics in India, that the coronavirus is not causing the high mortality rates that were anticipated.
In Dharavi, officials say that concerted public health efforts to trace, track, test and treat cases, have helped to contain community spread.
Now, recent research by Indian scientists seeking to explain why India’s death rate is so low, suggest that more Indians may be immune to COVID-19 because they live in unsanitary conditions which have created an unexpected shield from the virus.
According to one study, more than 70 percent of all COVID–19 deaths have occurred in high income countries like Italy, Spain, UK, France and USA. It hypothesized that more people died in richer countries with older populations, because better hygiene and safe sanitation practices lowered levels of immunity and made people more susceptible to the virus.
In another study scientists report, “It appears that countries with better health care, clean environment, clean food and water have higher COVID associated mortality, whereas developing and underdeveloped countries have lower mortality in terms of deaths per million population.”
Both research studies (not yet peer reviewed), suggest that in low GDP countries like India, lives of people in densely populated areas may have been saved because of poor hygiene and sanitation practices. Unsanitary conditions and exposure to diseases from childhood may have increased their ability to ward off infections, and boosted immunity against COVID-19. Experts also suggest that the early lockdown and a younger population helped stave off a higher death toll in India.
The science is intriguing. Does greater exposure to a variety of viruses in the slums of low income countries provide a better level of protection against the coronavirus, than the overly sanitized environments of richer nations?
“Paradoxically, better sanitation leads to poor immune training and thus could be leading to higher deaths per million,” says the study. But it cautions that while the research offers a possible explanation, poor hygiene is not a solution to the pandemic.
India, and Dharavi in particular, may have pulled off a remarkable reprieve against COVID-19 for now. But the pandemic is far from over and science is still learning about this young virus. So, public health experts warn, SMS (social distance, mask, and sanitize) must remain the global mantra to keep Covid 19 at bay, until vaccines become easily available to the general public.
Meera Kymal is the contributing editor at India Currents.
In the run up to the election, the Trump administration has doubled down on immigration, taking another swipe at the H-1B visa program to boost its America First platform. That means US companies, which have long relied on the H-1B visa to hire highly skilled immigrant workers, will find it even more difficult and expensive to bolster their workforce with qualified foreign hires.
At Ismael Leyva Architects (ILA) in New York, HR Manager Anupama Nayar has been processing the H-1B applications of new recruits sponsored by her company, for the last six years. “These graduates from top tier STEM programs at US campuses already have degrees from storied universities in their home country,” says Nayar. “Some also bring 1 to 2 years of work experience and cutting edge skills – like knowledge of Revit, a building design software – that make them valuable contributors to ILA.”
A Brookings Institute study supports her view. “More than half (56 %) of the world’s engineering bachelor’s degrees are earned in Asia, compared to just 4 % in the United States.” It found that US employers have “significant difficulty in finding resident workers to fill STEM and other specialty occupations,” because the US educational system is unable to supply enough highly skilled resident workers that will keep American companies globally competitive.
What gives the US an advantage is its status as the global hub of academic training – in 2020 over one million international students made up 5.5% in higher education enrollment. So US companies seeking highly skilled members, especially in the metropolises, have a wealth of talent within their reach to help bridge that gap.
At ILA, a small Manhattan-based architectural firm, Nayar fills the requirement for skilled workers by hiring masters graduates from universities like Columbia, Cornell and Pratt, to bolster its roster of highly skilled employees. Several of the new hires are qualified foreign students.
“The majority of the H-1B visas we sponsor are for students from India, China and South Korea,” says Nayar. Since 2014, ILA has sponsored up to ten applications a year through the H-1B lottery system. Once candidates and their petitions are approved, usually 5 to 6 employees receive their H-1B, a visa that’s valid for three years with a three year extension.
Nayar says every job she lists attracts almost 60% of applicants from highly qualified foreign graduates from top architecture schools; but with the pandemic and the economic downturn, hiring has slowed down. But since 2017, changes to immigration law have starkly reduced the number of H-1B visas that ILA sponsors.
“In the last 3 years it’s been difficult keeping up with immigration changes. We are reducing sponsorship because of high costs, time, increased scrutiny on petitions, and recent immigration complexities,” says Nayar. Last year she processed only three H-1B applications for ILA and received just one H-1B approval. Her company still sponsors green cards but as evolving USCIS policies create green card quota backlogs – ILA has reduced the number of permanent resident sponsorships.
Immigration wait times for Indians have more than doubled. Now, Indian-origin employees could wait a lifetime (more than 50 years) to get their green cards, the next step to the path on citizenship.
“It’s worth investing in talented employees, but the high cost of fees and sponsorships that accompany the H-1B process,” says Nayar, “makes it more difficult.”
Behind this shift is a Trump directive issued in June to ‘put American workers first’ by suspending several job-related nonimmigrant visas, including “H-1Bs, H-2Bs without a nexus to the food-supply chain, certain H-4s, as well as Ls and certain Js.”
The directive to “restore American greatness” aims at preserving jobs for American citizens in the economic recovery from the coronavirus. The Department of Labor (DOL), tightened regulations on H-1B visas by forcing companies to pay substantially higher wages to hire foreign recruits, and justified the wage increase by claiming that H-1B migrants displace native‐born American workers and reduce wages of native‐born Americans.
That move “has essentially shut down the legal immigration system,” said Alex Nowrasteh of the Cato Institute, at an Ethnic Media services briefing on October 30. Nowrasteh, the Director of Immigration Studies at the Cato Institute’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity, called the rise in H-1B minimum wage levels “enormously destructive.” It will force H-1B workers to find new jobs or leave the US, and deny businesses the opportunity to invest in new talent by making them unaffordable.
He pointed out that the wage increase was based on “incomparable datasets” from old economic research and will in the long term, “reduce legal immigration to the US.”
The reforms are proving to be an effective deterrent. The H-1B lottery based system is being replaced by salary-based selection and increases in wage levels. They require companies to pay high skilled workers at the 95 percentile of their profession’s category, up from the 65 percentile.
“If an employer has to pay a new hire with little or no work experience the same as employees with several years experience, foreign students become too expensive to hire. If a salary range is $50 to $60 thousand, and the new proposed wage pitches it at $80 to $90 thousand, it becomes a tough decision to hire a foreign skilled worker.”
“So of course, there’s no way we will do that,” states Nayar.
However, the idea that immigrants are taking away jobs from Americans is a myth, reports the George W. Bush Policy Institute. Rather than taking America jobs, “72% of 7.6% of immigrants were self-employed compared to 5.6% of native-born Americans and they founded more than 40% of Fortune 500 companies.” Immigrants have been responsible for half the labor force growth over the last decade and immigrant-owned businesses tend to have an average of 11 employees. In fact, Nayar’s own company ILA, was founded by an immigrant who strongly believes in giving opportunity to talented immigrants.
That sentiment, however, will not inform the immigration policies of a second Trump term. Civil rights advocates at the briefing reiterated that bans to protect the American labor market and prevent job losses caused by the virus, are likely to stay in place if Trump is re-elected; 14th Amendment protections on citizenship and naturalization could also be under attack, warned Ali Noorani, President & CEO of the National Immigration Forum.
“If we see a second term, there will be a steady stream of executive orders or even litigation to chip away at those rights.”
Noorani recommended that immigration advocates pursue opportunities to build coalitions with policy makers both conservative and moderate, to support constructive immigration reform.
Or, in a second term, the administration is likely to continue its war on immigrants.
Meera Kymal is the contributing editor at India Currents