We Really Should Care: I’m Marching Because Families Belong Together

by Shivani Desai

What’s happening at the U.S. border is nothing short of a moral crisis — a despicable and violent infliction of systematic cruelty.

In the past several weeks, Donald Trump’s administration has enacted absolutely heartless policies, including the zero-tolerance policy and the separation of children from their families. This administration is writing oppression into policy, using children’s lives as leverage in their xenophobic and white supremacist agenda. Last week, President Trump signed an executive order to “end family separation.” This executive order, enacted to “stop” a crisis that Trump, Vice President Pence, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions themselves created, is bullsh*t. It does not end the zero-tolerance policy. It does not attempt to reunify children with their families. And it is essentially calling for the imprisonment of entire families for indefinite periods of time.

What’s happening at the border is part of a loaded, shameful legacy of separating black and brown children from their families – a history that continues today as these families are systematically punished, criminalized, and forced apart. It is impossible to find words that capture the profound magnitude and depth of devastation that these practices have wreaked, the lives that have been violently disrupted and tossed away. We cannot stay silent.

I have always pushed back against the idea that you have to have a personal stake in an issue to care. We should show up for each other because protecting each other matters deeply and urgently, no matter what. Transforming privilege into action matters, and as the proud daughter of immigrants, this issue hits close to home.

My mother came to the U.S. when she was 22 years old. Both she and my father migrated to America from India to pursue graduate degrees, an immense privilege. This means that my family has been fortunate to live a life that was, for the most part, unrestricted by borders. My parents were not fleeing persecution, violence or imperialist-built burdens. They came here because migration is beautiful, and it is a choice that every human being deserves – especially for those escaping violence and seeking safety for themselves and their families. In fact, it is a legal and moral human right.

But of course, as we’ve seen through this crisis, Trump’s violent rhetoric about those migrating from Latin American and African countries, and Tuesday’s Supreme Court decision on the “Muslim ban,” these rights are all too often denied. We’ve witnessed the dehumanization of those seeking asylum and those who have been painted in reprehensibly bigoted, criminalized and racist terms by this administration. And we know it’s unacceptable.

The right to migrate—to seek safety, resources, opportunity, and happiness—belongs to everyone, not just those immigrants who had access to a system, to privilege and to capital. Not just those immigrants who were deemed “useful” or “non-threatening” by white supremacist and capitalist forces. My family was lucky to build our lives here. We must do everything we can to ensure that other immigrants, too, have the chance to live the lives they choose.

That’s why I’m marching tomorrow. Social justice groups from around the country are hosting Families Belong Together marches – a day of mass mobilization to protest this crisis, demand an end to the zero-tolerance policy, fight for these children and families and hold this administration accountable. There will be a massive protest and march in Washington, D.C. as well as over 600+ events taking place throughout the country. Building from the power of many other actions, this day of mobilization will make it clear: This is cruelty, this is inhumane, and this cannot continue.

I’m marching because the conditions these children are currently facing are indescribably horrific. Because immigrant mothers are punished and judged, and this is a feminist and reproductive justice issue. Because abolishing ICE and ending state violence and mass incarceration will help marginalized communities live fully and freely. Because as a South Asian woman of color, showing up in solidarity for other communities of color is critical. I’m marching because liberation is profoundly interconnected with the freedom of migration.

Here’s how else you can get involved:

  • Follow these groups to learn more about what’s going on and how you can get involved: RAICES, MijenteNational Domestic Worker’s AllianceYWCA, and National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, to name a few.
  • Donate to any of the mentioned groups! Everything counts.
  • Share stories of what’s happening and organize your friends, families, student groups, faith communities, into action. Do not let this issue fade. Stay present.
  • Find local protests and actions. Go to as many as you can. Numbers matter: They signify public pressure and outrage.

We have to act: Artificial borders and boundaries should not dictate a person’s humanity.

The opinions expressed by the guest writer/blogger and those providing comments are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Brown Girl Magazine, Inc., or any employee thereof. Brown Girl Magazine is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the guest writer/bloggers. This work is the opinion of the blogger. It is not the intention of Brown Girl Magazine to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, or individual. If you’d like to submit a guest post, please follow the guidelines we’ve set forth here. 

Shivani Desai is an organizer with the Feminist Majority Foundation in Washington, D.C. She is especially passionate about anti-violence work and advocating for abortion access and reproductive justice for women of color. When not launching into political rants (rarely), you can find her obsessing over Hatecopy’s art, shopping for heeled combat boots that all vaguely look the same, and binge-watching “Jane the Virgin” and “Insecure.”
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Op-Ed: An Open Letter to President Biden in Light of Prime Minister Modi’s Visit to the States

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state visit
The following open letter is written by Hindus for Human Rights, an organization advocating for pluralism, civil and human rights in South Asia and North America, rooted in the values of Hindu faith: shanti (peace), nyaya (justice) and satya (truth). They provide a Hindu voice of resistance to caste, Hindutva (Hindu nationalism), racism, and all forms of bigotry and oppression.

Dear President Biden,

As Indian-Americans, human rights organizations, and concerned allies, we are writing to urge you to engage publicly and meaningfully to push back against the Indian government’s escalating attacks on human rights and democracy, especially ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state visit to the United States.

Despite objective evidence that India’s democracy is under critical attack, you have not spoken out about this crisis. In early 2023, Indian authorities conducted retaliatory raids on the BBC’s Delhi and Mumbai offices for releasing a documentary about Prime Minister Modi. The week before the Summit for Democracy, the Indian government made three successive attacks on Indian democracy. First, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party expelled Rahul Gandhi from Parliament. Second, the Indian government shut the internet down in Punjab, severely impacting the rights for Sikhs to peacefully organize and protest. And third, the Indian Supreme Court ruled that Indians can be found guilty by association for terrorism. And yet, not one representative from the Biden Administration said anything about even one of these developments. Instead, while Islamophobic violence gripped India in late March, you invited Prime Minister Modi to speak at the Summit for Democracy. Mr. Modi visits DC at a time when the state of Manipur has experienced heavy communal and anti-Christian violence after Modi’s ruling party pushed an initiative to undermine Indigenous rights in the state.

Even when confronted with questions by Indian reporters about human rights in India, your administration has only had private two-way conversations about how both of our governments can always improve. Quite frankly, we find it unacceptable to see such equivocation on Indian democracy from an administration that has been strident in its defense of American democracy and the rule of law. 

India is one of the fastest autocratizing nations in the world, mostly thanks to the current government. Freedom House has rated India as a “partly-free” country for the past three years, and has blamed Prime Minister Modi’s government for a rise in discriminatory policies, including persecution against Muslims and caste-based violence against Dalit and Adivasi communities; harassment of civil society, protestors, academia and the media, and the targeting of political opponents. It has also rated Indian-administered Kashmir as “not free,” citing violations of human, civil, and political rights after the Modi government revoked the territory’s autonomous status. In Reporters Without Borders press freedom ranking, India has dropped to 161 out of 180 countries in 2023. India has appeared in the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Impunity Indexwhich examines accountability for unsolved journalists’ murders — every year for the past 15 years and currently ranks in 11th place worldwide. According to PEN America’s Freedom to Write Index, in 2022, India was one of the top 10 countries that jailed writers globally. The Varieties of Democracy Institute characterizes India as an “electoral autocracy” and blames India’s descent into autocracy on Prime Minister Modi. And the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has said India has been one of the top 15 countries at risk for a mass atrocity event every year since 2017, which reflects the toxicity of Indian politics under Modi. 

Given the magnitude of this crisis, we ask you to engage directly with Indian-American and human rights civil society leaders to explore solutions to address India’s human rights crisis. We also ask you to employ the tools at your disposal to ensure that the Indian government cannot attack Indians’ human rights with impunity. As the 2022 Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor report details, several government individuals have committed human rights violations that, under U.S. law, would qualify them to be sanctioned under the Global Magnitsky Act. Indian security forces that have engaged in human rights violations should have security assistance rescinded, under the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. 

Finally, we urge you to publicly call on the Indian government to honor its commitments to human rights, including calling on Prime Minister Modi and his cabinet to halt the use of anti-terror laws to arbitrarily detain political critics. You can publicly denounce the rising numbers of political prisoners and the weaponization of the rule of law in India to shut down criticism. Even if you are not willing to personally criticize the Prime Minister, you have ample opportunity to criticize the Indian government’s misuse of public trust and public institutions to consolidate power and undermine the will of the Indian people.

As President of the United States of America, you hold a unique position to lead the fight against authoritarianism. Prime Minister Modi will listen to you when you speak. But he and his allies will only change if you take a stand publicly. We urge you to listen to those of us who care about India and ensure that one man cannot steal the futures and the rights of our loved ones in India.

— Signed by countless organizations and individuals leading the charge (linked here).

Oak Creek: A Story of Hate, Hope and Healing

Every year on August 5th, the Sikh American community remembers one of our community’s most devastating tragedies in recent memory — the Oak Creek massacre. On this day in 2012, a white supremacist gunman entered the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, a gurdwara (Sikh house of worship) in Oak Creek, Wisconsin where he shot and killed six worshippers and severely injured others. This violent attack was the deadliest mass shooting targeting Sikh Americans in U.S. history, and at the time, was one of the worst attacks on a U.S. house of worship in decades. Six worshippers — Paramjit Kaur Saini, Sita Singh, Ranjit Singh, Prakash Singh, Suveg Singh Khattra, and Satwant Singh Kaleka — were killed on that horrific day. An additional community member, Baba Punjab Singh, was severely paralyzed and ultimately passed away from complications related to his injuries in 2020. Others, including Bhai Santokh Singh and responding police officer and hero, Lt. Brian Murphy, were seriously wounded during the shooting. 

[Read Related: Oak Creek Gurdwara Massacre’s 4th Anniversary: Young Sikhs Express Optimism for the Continued Struggle Against Hate and Ignorance]

In 2022, the community came together to demonstrate that we are undaunted. My organization, the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) joined in supporting the anniversary observance at Oak Creek: a remembrance event centered around the theme of “Heal, Unite, Act.” The Oak Creek Sikh community hosted a series of in-person events, including the 10th Annual Oak Creek Sikh Memorial Anniversary Candlelight Remembrance Vigil on Friday, August 5, 2022. The program included a representative from the White House, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers, Oak Creek Mayor Dan Bukiewicz, and representatives of the families who lost loved ones. Being there in Oak Creek 10 years after the tragedy was deeply meaningful — both to see the inspiring resilience of this community and to remember how much remains to be done.

In D.C., SALDEF continues to fight for policies that improve the lives of Sikh Americans. I had the honor of chairing the most recent iteration of the Faith-Based Security Advisory Council at the Department of Homeland Security, providing recommendations at the request of Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas. Consequently, the three subcommittees published a report that emphasized the importance of greater accessibility, greater equity, and greater transparency in counterterrorism efforts that for too long revolved around surveilling populations like the one that was senselessly attacked at the Oak Creek gurdwara in 2012. Leading the FBSAC as a Sikh woman, and representing a community that was highly targeted alongside Muslims by both white supremacists and in post-9/11 counterterrorism profiling, was an opportunity to push the Council to advocate more fiercely for further information-sharing between communities and law enforcement, extending grant opportunities for security for Gurdwaras and other houses of worship, and building trust between the government and Sikh communities. In addition, I advocated for accountability for the damage needlessly caused to Muslim, Arab, South Asian, and Hindu (MASSAH) communities by federal agencies historically pursuing “counterterrorism” objectives which has resulted in eroded trust rather than the development of strong partnerships. 

Although we have made great strides in this country, there is still more to do. Through our work we have partnered with many across the nation to come together and find solutions through tenets central to Sikhism and America — unity, love, and equality. SALDEF continues to strongly endorse the policy framework articulated across the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act (H.R. 350 / S. 963); Justice for Victims of Hate Crimes Act; and the Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP) Improvement Act (H.R. 6825). We believe strongly in mandating federal agencies to create dedicated offices to investigate domestic terrorism; allowing prosecutors to feasibly indict perpetrators of hate crimes; and allowing religious nonprofits to access federal funding to enhance their own security.

[Read Related: Anti-Sikh Hate is on the Rise: Here’s What we can Do]

While 11 years have passed, the effects of the Oak Creek shooting are never far from the minds of Sikh American advocates and the community we serve. SALDEF will not stop taking a stand against senseless violence and hate crimes. We continue to work in unity with our community and movement partners, and fight for better policies that will actively keep all of our communities safe. Through tragedy, we find hope. We know there can be a world where people from all backgrounds and cultures can practice their faith freely and, even though it has eluded the Sikh American community in the past, we still believe this world is possible.

Photo Courtesy of Amrita Kular

The opinions expressed by the writer of this piece, and those providing comments thereon (collectively, the “Writers”), are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Brown Girl Magazine, Inc., or any of its employees, directors, officers, affiliates, or assigns (collectively, “BGM”). BGM is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the Writers. It is not the intention of Brown Girl Magazine to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, or individual. If you have a complaint about this content, please email us at Staff@browngirlmagazine.com. This post is subject to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. If you’d like to submit a guest post, please follow the guidelines we’ve set forth here.
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