Tag Archives: refugees

Shikara – The Untold Story of Kashmiri Pundits

A movie about Kashmir is a natural magnet for me, since my mother was born and brought up in Srinagar. I’ve grown up listening to her stories of this Shangri-La, where every garden bloomed with apple and cherry trees, and where nature was like a gorgeous and generous mother, her bounty of fruit and flowers overflowing on the bosom of a land crisscrossed by crystalline streams and clear blue lakes.

The exodus of my mother’s side of the family from Kashmir during the Partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 wasn’t considered a permanent separation. Like most Kashmiri refugees at the time, they considered themselves Kashmiris first, and Punjabis, second. They were sure things would settle down, treaties would be signed, a peace accord reached, and they would be able to return to their homes, and their beloved Kashmir.

Shikara is a movie about the flight of Kashmiri Pandits to India in the early 1990’s. The same journey my mother’s family had undertaken in 1947 was repeating itself with a different population in 1990, but with a similar, sadly predictable ending – no one gets to go back once a land is dipped in the bloodletting hatred of communalism.

Sadia Khateeb and Aadil Khan in Shikara

The movie begins in the late 1980’s when unrest is beginning to heat up. The two newcomers who play the lead, Aadil Khan and Sadia Khateeb, are a delightful, romantic pair, and the movie diffuses the brutal, bloody violence of strife between Hindus and Muslims through the soft prism of their young, idealistic love.  Aadil Khan plays Shiv Kumar Dhar, who falls in love with Shanti (Khateeb) after accidentally being paired with her as an extra during a movie shoot in Srinagar. 

This thread of an eternal love story which survives the cruelties and trauma of communal violence by clinging fiercely to each other is one frame of the movie. The other frame is the thousands of letters, one every day, that Shiv writes to the President of America to plead for help when they become stateless refugees. 

In the first half we see the innocence and beauty of an era where Shiv’s best friend, Lateef Lone (Zain Khan Durrani) is the messenger who carries Shiv’s declaration of infatuation to Shanti. Their wedding is simple, involving immediate friends and family and Shiv insists on including Lateef and his father (whom he calls Abbajaan) in his family wedding photo. We see the young couple endearingly in love, finding the perfect place to build their own house, and Lateef’s father bringing stones for the foundation of their future home from his own land. Hindu or Muslim, they are Kashmiri’s first. 

Shiv is a dreamy poet who’s working on his PHD in Literature and plans to teach, while Shanti is content being a housewife and doting on him. Their little piece of paradise is shattered by the death of Lateef’s father, Abbajaan, in one of those ‘unfortunate incidents’ which are all too common in Kashmir – a trigger happy government force fires on a peaceful protest. This trauma turns Lateef into a terrorist, determined to exact revenge for his father’s death, and aligned with the cause of the Mujahedeen who want to make Kashmir an all Islamic state.

The movie tries to depict both sides of this thorny issue, but the weight of suffering is clearly on the Kashmiri Pandit end. Director Vidhu Vinod Chopra tries to bring balance by depicting both the ‘good’ Muslim neighbors (who help the Dhars escape when violence escalates) and the ‘bad’ ones (their doodhwaala who openly eyes their house, informing Shanti that he plans to move in when they leave, and then enters and squats illegally once they’re gone). But we are clearly primed to sympathize with the minority Pandits and their burning homes. 

The movie has some very poignant, cinematic moments which capture the pain of forced displacement – the exodus in crowded, overladen buses and cars which jams the highway to Jammu; an old man at the Jammu refugee camp crying incessantly that he wants to go back to his home in Srinagar; and incident when a truck, laden with tomatoes to distribute to the refugees, makes the state of beggary they have been reduced to painfully clear to Shiv and Shanti.

However, Shiv and Shanti’s idyllic love story, which is the prism through which we view the movie, has the reverse effect of diluting its primary message – the loss of dignity and trauma, the displaced feel, and the government’s apathy to the plight of permanent refugees; their helplessness in the face of the political forces twisting an individual’s destiny. It romanticizes and simplifies the experience of becoming a refugee refuge by creating a dream like quality to the narrative, especially in the second half.

The narrative also leaves gaping holes in the story, which beg for answers: 

Why have these refugee camps become permanent? How and where did most of those who decide to leave the camp resettle? How culpable were the Indian forces in stoking anti-India hatred by their excesses. What about Pakistan’s involvement in creating terrorism? Chopra doesn’t address any of these issues throbbing in the foreground of Shiv and Shanti’s invincible love story.

Shikara is an enjoyable, melancholy love story, which doesn’t ask any gritty questions or deliver thoughtful answers—it deals with emotions, but in a sanitized, over romanticized way. Aadil Khan and Sadia carry it on the backs of their excellent performances, and obvious chemistry. It’s watchable, but not memorable.

I would give it two and half stars. Four stars for the actors! Now on Amazon Prime.


Jyoti Minocha is an DC-based educator and writer who holds a Masters in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins, and is working on a novel about the Partition.

Will Biden’s Immigrant Plan Save Ravi Ragbir?

Ravi Ragbir’s Story  

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.’

You can listen their stories via this link – https://www.immigrantrightsvoices.org/

Ragbir shared his story at an ethnic media briefing on January 29, in which immigration experts reviewed President Biden’s Immigration Bill, which was sent to Congress on January 20.

After four years of cruelty and chaos, said Frank Sharry, Founder and Executive Director of America’s Voice, during which the Trump administration weaponized an already dysfunctional immigration system, the country now has a President and slight majority in Congress that is pro-immigrant.

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.

The  US Citizenship Act of 2021

“It really is a racial justice bill,” said John Yang, President and Executive Director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC), referring to Biden’s US Citizenship Act.  The new bill is important to Asian Americans, because their story “isn’t quite part of the narrative” on immigration but legislation will affect Asian Americans in a very significant way

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.

According to Mariaelena Hincapié, Executive Director of the National Immigration Law Center, the Biden administration will begin the process of undoing the Public Charge rule, but would need to launch a robust community outreach and education program to regain the trust of immigrant families and encourage them to seek the help they need.

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.”


Meera Kymal is the Contributing Editor at India Currents
Photo by Samantha Sophia on Unsplash

Trump’s War On Immigrants

The Trump presidency has made more than 400 changes to US immigration policy since it took office, waging what immigration advocates are calling ‘Trump’s war on immigrants.’

The Trump administration went on the offensive in January 2017, accelerating changes to immigration policy in a series of rapidfire executive actions. A report released by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) in July catalogs more than 400 revisions which have swiftly and ‘dramatically reshaped the U.S. immigration system’ in the last four years.

The sweeping changes impact “everything from border and interior enforcement, to refugee resettlement and the asylum system, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the immigration courts, and vetting and visa processes,” states the report, and places tough restrictions on potential tourists, foreign workers and international students.

Sarah Pierce, Migration Policy Institute

“Many of the changes reflect the administrations’ really strong knowledge of immigration law,” confirmed Sarah Pierce, a policy expert who co-authored the report, at a briefing on immigration system changes hosted by Ethnic Media Services on August 7.

The new regulations reflect the administration’s willingness to enforce technicalities “that have been on books for years,” said Pierce, but have rarely been implemented. Those penalties and restrictions are now being used to restrict immigration into the country, reflecting emerging trends in the administration’s anti-immigration agenda.

What Laws have Changed?

The consensus among immigration experts at the briefing was that the Trump administration has used the current national crises to further their political agenda with executive orders that significantly reduce the flow of legal immigrants into the country.

Ignazia Rodrigues, NILC

Ignazia Rodrigues, immigration policy advocate at the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) described the push to add a citizenship question to the census as an example of the administration’s anti-immigrant policy.

Most of the changes have been implemented by executive fiat without going through Congress, explained Pierce. Acting on the rhetoric that immigration poses a threat to the nation’s security and economy, the administration has doubled down on reducing immigration into the country, driving reform through ‘layered changes’ on a series of regulations, policy and programs.

For example, under a new revision, ICE can enforce a1996 law to levy exorbitant fines of $799 a day on unauthorized  immigrants who remain in the country in violation of a removal order.

In another draconian example, the Trump administration has expanded the definition of who fits the Public Charge rule, which bars foreign nationals who receive or are deemed likely to receive public benefits from becoming legal permanent residents. The rule uses the totality of the circumstances test to evaluate a broad set of metrics such as education, English proficiency, income, jobs, health and family size to deny entry to applicants.

As a result, a large number of green card holders are at risk of denial MPI reports, because at least 69% of recent green-card recipients have at least one of the negative factors that could be weighted against them under the regulation. The ruling will disfavor women, the elderly and children, as well as nationals from Central America and Mexico. Findings from MPI also show that immigrants from Africa, Asia, Latin America are less likely to be favored under the new Public Charge rule, said Pierce.

Though these changes may seem like minor technicalities, taken altogether they will have a monumental impact in dismantling and reconstructing the immigration system in the long term, and significantly change the face of U.S. immigration.

The MPI report finds that these critical changes will result in closing off humanitarian benefits, sealing the southern border, creating hurdles for both legal and unauthorized immigrants already in country and reducing legal immigration into the country.

However, the advent of the coronavirus has fueled the administration’s immigration offensive.

“The pandemic has only accelerated the pace of changes this administration has made,” said Pierce, identifying three major changes enforced since the COVID-19 crisis began, and the implication for prospective immigrants.

The administration invoked a 1944 public health law that allows the Surgeon General to restrict the entry of individuals deemed a public health threat, and block people at the US-Mexico border. The order, issued directly from the CDC director Robert Redfield, allows border security to bypass established protocols and expel children and asylum seekers from countries with communicable diseases, effectively ending asylum at the southern border. Human Rights First condemned the CDC order for “ending refugee and child protections at the border indefinitely, endangering rather than saving lives.”

Then, on April 22, President Trump signed a proclamation restricting permanent immigration in order to protect American workers and their jobs. The proclamation and the follow up June 22 proclamation restricting temporary workers, limits the entry of foreign workers (on H1B visas for example) and prospective immigrants applying for employment-based green cards from abroad. It also restricts ‘chain migration’ by temporarily suspending entry for many prospective citizens applying for family-based green cards from other countries. Effectively, citizens and green card holders are prevented from sponsoring family members – parents, siblings, spouses and children – to join them in the US.

Kalpana Peddibhotla, Immigration Attorney

Losing skilled foreign workers would negatively impact innovation and job growth especially in the high tech sector said immigration attorney Kalpana Peddibhotla, as several studies show that “foreign workers in STEM fields are critical to the innovation in the growth of patents,” and “immigrants are twice as likely to start businesses than US born natives.”

However, the restrictions continue unabated.  Travel bans still exist for foreign nationals traveling from 31 different countries, said Pierce, and the President recently signed an executive order restricting the ability of federal contractors to hire foreign nationals; the new order also referenced further restrictions proposed in the future for the H1B program.

These orders achieve what the administration has been working towards long before the pandemic began, remarked Pierce. “It’s hard to imagine them walking back any of these restrictions, even after the pandemic is no longer a prevalent issue.”

It’s uncertain whether future administrations would have the time, resources and willingness to reverse the restrictions said Pierce, adding that some reversals would require careful consideration; for example, if restrictions were lifted at the southern border it could result in a surge of unauthorized arrivals.

As the country begins the slow process of recovery from multiple crises – a pandemic, an economic slowdown and racial injustice uprisings, “It’s hard for me to picture a future administration investing this much in immigration,” said Pierce.

However, she pointed out that a future president could easily reverse the original 2017 travel ban which is still in place and expanded in 2020, because it would send “a visible strong signal that the US is changing its tone on immigration.”

It’s important to note that every one of these executive actions have been contested by lawsuits filed against the administration said Peddibhotla. “This is definitely not a great way for us to be governing and managing our immigration process. But it’s incredibly important that the lawsuits continue in order to hold the administration accountable.”


Meera Kymal is a contributing editor at India Currents.

Photo by Nitish Meena on Unsplash

I am Kashmiri. Hear me!

I did not believe that I would live to see the day when my family could rightfully return home to Kashmir. Article 370 being revoked in Kashmir on Aug 5 2019, is one of the best decisions by the Govt of India to restore secularism in Kashmir, a land whose demography has been changed by the systematic targeting of its minority Hindus/Sikhs. 

For me the relief is personal, since my own family (parents, siblings, relatives, friends, neighbors), along with other Kashmiri Hindu communities, was part of the mass exodus in 1990, when we were brutally targeted and cleansed from Kashmir by militant Islamic groups aided by Pakistan.

As is well known and documented, in 1990, mosques throughout Kashmir blared threats to all “kafirs,” (non-believers)  “Ralive, tsalive, ya galive” (Convert to Islam, leave, or die). Various terror groups posted posters on our doors declaring, “Allah-o-Akbar, infidels get lost. Jihad is approaching.” Thousands chanted on the streets, “Kashmir banawon Pakistan, Bataw varaie, Batneiw saan”  (“We will turn Kashmir into Pakistan, with Kashmiri Hindu women, but without their men”). 

We were terrified. I remember the mobs that roamed our neighborhood with slogans of wanting to rape and kill Kaffirs. Hindu families with girls were especially vulnerable. My mother kept poison ready, having taught me, even at 8 years of age, that we both needed to  poison ourselves if any terrorist entered our home. I began to regret being born a girl.  

My parents and relatives finally decided that they could not live with this constant looming threat. We fled from our homes, carrying just a few belongings, hoping that we would be able to come back in a few months. 

Life as a Refugee

In Jammu I smelled the fragrance of freedom for the first time and felt welcome. This was a change from my experiences growing up in Kashmir, where we always felt ostracized; be it a cricket match, when stones were pelted at our homes to mourn a Pakistani loss or when we hoisted the Indian flag or tried to celebrate our Independence Day (August 15th) or Republic Day (January 26th). 

Life in Jammu came with its own challenges. We were refugees in every sense of the word—distressed and helpless, living in tents, until we found rooms for rent. Even the weather was punishing, with temperatures rising up to 48 degrees Celsius, a shock for us Kashmiris who were used to much milder climes. The sudden change of climate  took the lives of many refugees, as they lacked adequate protection against the elements in their tents. 

I was a student at the time and often fainted from starvation. There were no facilities for students, so we tried to study under the shade of trees in the searing summer heat. There was little support from local, state or national government bodies-our only aid came from the local Hindu community and organizations like BJP, Shiv Sena, and RSS.

During this mass exodus, no ruling political party made an effort to support our families. Nor did they ever address the trauma we live with. The last 29 years have been brutal. Many Hindu Kashmiris, including my own grandparents (who were in their sixties at the time we fled Kashmir), passed away as refugees, longing for a chance to return to their motherland. 

Kashmiri Hindus are the original inhabitants of Kashmir. Named for the Sage Kashyapa, it  was our home for thousands of years. We gave up our ancestral lands, our communities, our places of worship, and our futures. The removal of Article 370 has revived hope in my community, as is evident from the many private and public celebrations that followed. Even though it’s too late for my elders, the new status offers a ray of hope for the rest of the community: a chance to return home, to pray in historic family temples that have been abandoned for decades, to once again be Kashmiri in every sense of the word-irrespective of our religion. 

I finally have hope that we will see a dismantling of the systematic infrastructure that oversaw the genocide of the Kashmiri Pandits. The abrogation will allow an Indian citizen, of any faith, to live where they like and pursue occupations of their choosing. The abrogation of Article 370 finally delivers on the promises of the Indian Constitution. 

Ruchi Kolla was born in Srinagar. She now lives and works in the Bay Area. This is her first piece about life in Kashmir.

 

Seeing Refugees in a New Light

Refugees or “disadvantaged people” weren’t new terms for me. Growing up in India, I was exposed to families in such vulnerable states. Throughout my childhood, I was well aware of people who were not living in the best circumstances.

There were multiple times I heard the word “refugee” on T.V but didn’t make much sense of it. My young mind was convinced that refugees were a threat to our country due to the media influencing me to think of them in a certain way. Posters of young kids. Weak, depressed and haggard.

But not too long ago, I attended an Urban Camp  conducted by the Brotherhood of St Laurence. This not-for-profit organization- helps new refugees settle in our country and provides them with the necessities of life. We met families that had fled their countries or had a tough background. We helped young kids with their homework and prepared breakfast for elders.

Growing up in such a privileged house-hold, I had a very harsh perception of refugees and was quite nervous about interacting with them. But the people I met at the camp were the exact opposite. They were provided a housing complex  and their kids attended a proper school nearby. During the camp, I had forgotten that they were ‘refugees’ but rather people who immigrated to another country, like my family and I had done eight years ago. Their lives were very similar to ours.

I remember seeing some people who carried massive bags that contained all their belongings and often jumped to conclusions. When in fact, they weren’t sure of where they would be spending the night. They had to carry all their belongings with them in case they decided to stay overnight on the streets or someone’s  home. It never really occurred to me how brutal some people’s lives can be. Their parents were constantly working to earn money just so they can provide enough for their family. Our guide had told us that wealth was defined by the number of things you carry when you leave the house. For example, if you carry only your wallet or a purse with money and other smaller necessities you would be considered a person of a higher class, but if you had to carry all your belongings and other necessities you would be considered to be part of the lower class.

Before I met some of the families living in this condition, I always thought that they would be miserable or mournful due to the complications that they were facing. However, they were content with their lives and enjoyed every small thing they were given. It made me realize that I took many things in my life for granted.

The kids around us were always so happy and adored our company. We constantly played with them and offered them piggyback rides, even though our backs would ache at the end of the day. But we felt rather gratified when we made them smile.

Siya is an enthusiastic 16 year old from Australia who is currently in Year 10 at Melbourne Girls Grammar School, Melbourne. She loves playing the violin, basketball and catching up on sleep; can cook a mean pasta and spends her free time watching Bollywood movies.

Immigrant Rights Activists See Turning Point For All Americans

By Mark Hedin, Ethnic Media Services

Warning that the country is heading down a white nationalist, nativist path, four immigrant rights advocates issued a call to action just hours before the U.S. Senate rejected all four proposals to change U.S. immigration policy, and a second federal court found the president’s “Muslim ban” unconstitutional.

The advocates spoke at a national telebriefing for ethnic media sponsored by Ready California, a collaborative cross-sector effort led by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center.

“We’ve all learned to expect the unexpected,” said Sameera Hafiz, an attorney and senior policy strategist for the ILRC in Washington, DC.  “The reason we’re here is because of Trump’s decision in September to rescind the DACA program and throw the lives of close to 800,000 young people into chaos and uncertainty.

“But while the Senate was ostensibly debating the future of the DACA program,” Hafiz argued,  “the reality is that any (proposed) DACA proposals go hand in hand with eliminating the diversity visa program, severely curtailing the family immigration program and expansive border enforcement measures – far beyond what we think about when we think about border security.”

“And while we’ve been focused in DC on the legislative side, we’ve been distracted from what the administration is already doing.” Hafiz cited attacks on jurisdictions with sanctuary policies and other enforcement actions against Dreamers, mothers and activists.

Angelica Salas, director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), agreed that what is underway is an attack on legal immigration itself which she called “a white nationalist agenda (whereby) certain individuals are not qualified to come into the United States based on their country of birth and their religion.”

On average, Salas noted, “our clients being deported from Los Angeles had been in the country more than 25 years. With the crippling of various legal channels like the Central American minors program, the separation of children from parents, the ending of diversity vistas, “the list goes on,” she said –“we’re destroying people’s lives.”

“This is not just about the immigrant community any more. It’s about what kind of country we want and who we are, as Americans.”

Zahra Billoo,  executive director of the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and a civil rights attorney, hailed the decision by the Fourth Circuit which joined a chorus of courts across the country who have said that the Muslim ban is unconstitutional. Nevertheless, she noted, “Whether you are from Iran or Somalia, it does not matter what your story is, you cannot come to the US.”   Billoo quoted a Georgetown University estimate that 60000 people had been impacted in their efforts to get an education or see their families.

“We’re optimistic,” she said, but cautioned that what’s legal doesn’t always align with what’s moral.  “The court in the past has allowed many unjust things, such as the Japanese internment.”

Adoubou Traore, director of the African Advocacy Network which provides legal counsel for immigrants of the African diaspora, highlighted the dramatic growth of the African immigrant community, from 816,000 in 1980 to more than 4 million in 2016,  Largely faceless and voiceless, this population has borne the brunt of every new restrictive immigration measure, from the Muslim ban to the removal of Temporary Protective Status (TPS).   As immigrants and as Blacks, “we are the only group that has been named racially, and coming from countries that have been named in ways that I don’t even want to repeat, but we all heard it.”

Asked about the future of the immigrant rights movement, Salas noted the “tremendous mobilization by immigrant youth and this will only increase as people mobilize around the March 5 Congressional deadline for a solution on DACA.  

“But this is a call to the broader immigrant community and Americans in general,” Salas emphasized.

“We need to stand up not just to be in solidarity with immigrants and refugees, and our brothers and sisters from the Muslim community. We need to stand up as Americans, as a country saying this is not who we are or what our values are.  I think this is what’s missing.”

 

Where is Sherbat Gula Now?

Where is Sherbat Gula Now?

“Let’s take it easy and go eat at someplace nice for a change, I said one lazy Saturday morning. You know, just spend a relaxed, agenda-less morning. Some place I can wear this to.” I said. I was fondly looking at my new dupatta, carefully embroidered with dancing peacocks.

The kerfuffle just to spending a relaxed morning doing nothing I tell you! There was hectic activity everywhere: feverishly looking for things, toddler shoes worn on wrong feet, missing cell phones, cell phones without charge all needing urgent handling in a 10-minute interval.

I ignored the daughter as she took charge while throwing me a disdainful look. We felt the charges of love and tension squirt back and forth.

Appa! What are you doing? That’s it! Stop playing chess and come on.

Time for me to take charge around here, she said. Amma, stop dancing! Why are you wearing this fancy dupatta-thing-y now anyway?

“Because I can! Dance! Dance! More!”, I said in a smart repartee and chuckled. Completely lost on her of course.

(‘More’ (मोर ) means peacock in Hindi)

The husband meekly looked up from his game of chess and sighed yet again.  I heard him murmur something about loss of freedom as we headed out.

Pretty soon, we found ourselves in an Afghani restaurant sitting quietly. I turned the menu card over and the back of the menu had an iconic cover picture of the girl taken by National Geographic magazine in 1985. That single picture  defined the turmoil of war world over. 

http://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2002/04/afghan-girl-revealed/

Sharbat Gula (meaning sweetwater flower girl in Pashtun)

That was enough. The husband and I got a professorial gleam in our eyes and we set about trying to enlighten the daughter to the plight of women the world over.

We had not even started on the political turmoil with the Russian occupation of Afghanistan when the pesky waiter came and took the menu cards away. I tchaa-ed with feeling at this tendency of waiters to hoard the menus. “The restaurant is empty – what do they want to do with the menus? I am sure they don’t have to read it!” as I fumed inwardly. 

“You finished ordering and what are you doing reading the mutton and chicken section anyway? You are a vegetarian!” the daughter said in what she thought was a scorching debate point. I have to admit, I like to traipse through the menu especially after I’ve ordered. I enjoy reading all the entrees and getting a feel of the cuisine, the culture, the spices and a dip into life in the normal households in the area. I like to imagine their grocery lists, their dinner tables, their lunch boxes and so much more.She thought I would fumble and drop my eyes in repentance. She was talking to the author of the (Why-are-you-dancing-now? Because I can! ) response, remember? (scroll up to beginning to remember what I said earlier).

I caught her eye and took her on a wild ride through the streets of Kabul selling spices, the perils of underttaking mundane tasks like grocery shopping in times of turmoil, past the beautiful poppy fields and the orchards of apricot, gasping through the crevices of  the Tora Bora mountains and finished with a comparison of Indian, Pakistani and Afghani cuisines.

By the time the food had arrived, we had sent a prayer for world peace and a goodwill message to Sherbat Gula and hoped her daughters would have a chance at peace and happiness in a strife ridden world. Sherbat Gula has three daughters and was deported from Pakistan back to Afghanistan recently. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Afghan_Girl

In the world today, there are currently more refugees than ever before. The rise of populism and nationalism means that the situation is deteriorating everyday. As of Dec 2015, an unprecedented 65.3 million people around the world had been forced from their homes. Among them are nearly 21.3 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18. There are also 10 million stateless people who have been denied a nationality and access to basic rights such as education, healthcare, employment and freedom of movement. Nearly 34,000 people are forcibly displaced every day as a result of war, conflict or persecution.

Source: http://www.unhcr.org/en-us/figures-at-a-glance.html

As Seneca said,

Dum inter homines sumus, colamus humanitatem

As long as we are human, let us be humane

My daughter is at an impressionable age; so, that evening, I casually left a copy of the book : Because I Am a Girl: I can change the world, in her room. A book that tells the story of girls from different parts of the world, and how we as women can and should play a part in changing lives for the better.

A not-so-subtle move, that!