Neighbors or Enemies? > Living with Hate

Los Angeles

Hamid Khan

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Director, South Asian Network

Before special registration, some people were questioning what was going on, for example in the Pakistani community. But it became huge after special registration.

The situation spiraled out of control. The Justice Department never did outreach to the affected communities. When special registration began, the INS in Los Angeles detained more than 800 people in one day. They didn’t have enough handcuffs. The jails were full, so they started busing people all over the country. They were not giving out any information to family members. Permanent residents went in to register with their green cards and were detained anyhow.

That’s when communities got together and staged a protest – especially the Iranian community. The resentment continues until this day, toward any and all types of law enforcement.

It’s a huge risk for communities, because people won’t make reports even if they are victims of crimes. Based on this experience they want nothing at all to do with the authorities. In Anaheim, a Pakistani’s house caught fire and he called his neighbors rather than dialing 911. The Fire Department came anyway and began interrogating him, to see if he had committed arson for the insurance.

The war on immigrants is a war on civil rights and human rights. While this administration continues, there is no end in sight. At every meeting I go to, everyone feels like they are under surveillance. People expect they will be in jail in the near future, or that they will have no freedom of speech.

Communities now will not sit back and take whatever is dished out, they’ve seen way too much. There is an overwhelming surge of activism, which hopefully is going to continue.

Locally, apart from work around detention and deportation, more organizations are also developing around the Patriot Act, looking at opportunities for confronting it through community organizing, broad-based community education and awareness, direct services, and advocacy around policies affecting communities.

We are trying to work with the breadth and diversity of the South Asian community. We are developing materials in the five main South Asian languages, in simple language, without legalese. Immigrants don’t know what “first amendment” refers to – we need to use lay language that captures the intent of policies, explains what people’s rights are, offer alternatives to the community.

I grew up in Pakistan, so I don’t respond to framing the issue as “public policy” – but as state violence. Our community has a long history of challenging violence and repression in our own countries, in the context of decolonization. How do we give the community the safety to come out on the street? Ultimately, the street is the only answer. The courts and the legislature are not responding to the attacks on our rights – or they are adding to them.

We need to take a step back and look at different styles of community organizing –direct services, policy advocacy – or working more on the street, around workers rights, and so on. We’re trying to get involved with all three.

In the process we are redefining the language of immigrant rights. Ultimately it becomes exclusionary. We need a broader lens, reframing immigrant rights as human and civil rights.