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Indians among 'top 10 undocumented populations in US'

May 18, 2012 20:09 IST

Immigration and racial profiling are the burning issues for Indian Americans and the broader South Asian American community, said Deepa Iyer, executive director, South Asian Americans Leading Together, and chair, National Council of Asian Pacific Americans.

"We actually believe," she said, "That all of the issues presented in the blueprint are important to the South Asian and the Indian community, especially with the rise in the South Asian population, which in fact became the fastest growing major ethnic group in the US over the past decade. So, we believe, the recommendations made around the economy, civil rights, immigration, health and education are all equally important."

She added, "If we were to kind of hone in on a couple of pressing issues, I would say, it's first around immigration and then around protection of civil rights, particularly racial profilingÂ… We are predominantly a foreign-born community, what this means is that we are impacted by a range of policy issues -- can we access benefits? How can we become citizens? How do we navigate the very complicated immigration system?"

Many Asian Americans, she pointed out, "Are waiting decades to be reunited with family members that they sponsored. Also, those who are here on employment-based visas have difficulty moving their jobs and many face forcible separation from their families due to increase in detention rates."

Of the 11.5 million undocumented immigrants, Iyer said, an estimated million were of Asian descent. "Those who are from India, China, Philippines, Korea and Vietnam, who are undocumented, are actually among the top 10 undocumented populations in this country, which is very surprising to many people," she added.

"These include students, who have become known as Dreamers (after the DREAM Act) and many of them are of Asian descent who don't know a country other than this one, but cannot pursue educational or vocational opportunities in this country without some sort of reform."

This was why, she said, "In the NCAPA blueprint we make some key recommendations around what we call comprehensive immigration reform. Some of those recommendations include creating a simple but broad process that would provide a path to citizenship for those who are undocumented so they can come out of the shadows.

Another recommendation includes improving and strengthening avenues in protection for immigrant workers, And, of course, we are very interested in reform that would ensure that due process rights of all in the United States."

With regard to racial profiling -- that has affected Asian Americans, particularly South Asians, most dramatically since 9/11 -- Iyer said this had manifested itself in various forms from bullying of Sikh youth and the profiling of Muslims and other South Asians "in our schools, in the workplace, in our communities."

The most insidious incidents in recent months, she said, surrounded "Issues related to recent news reports that we've seen with the New York Police Department that has been increasing its surveillance and monitoring and targeting the South Asian communities in New York city, parts of New Jersey."

"And that is something that we have been pushing for in terms of both administratively with the Department of Justice, the administration, as well as on a Congressional level with the End Racial Profiling Act that would apply to a range of communities and provide some relief for those who feel they have been profiled," she added.

Image: Deepa Iyer, executive director, South Asian Americans Leading Together, and chair, National Council of Asian Pacific Americans

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC