Deconstructing the New DHS S-Comm Announcement

Posted on by Prerna in Immigration | 3 Comments

“ICE has determined that a [memorandum of agreement] is not required to activate or operate Secure Communities for any jurisdiction” — Director John Morton in letter to states saying no agreement is necessary on their part for S-COMM.

I read through press releases from major immigration advocacy groups and each statement failed to analyze why DHS came out with this announcement.

Most immigrant rights advocates simply don’t understand how S-Comm works. There’s actually no opting out of the growing archipelago of federal surveillance. But we also regretfully need legal professionals to explain the eleventh hour announcement.

In lawsuits filed against the Secure Communities programs, DHS has been pressed to show how it is not imposing on states’ rights and to clarify whether the program is truly optional. If Secure Communities is a regulatory program imposed upon local and state jurisdictions, then it is constitutionally suspect. Lately, DHS has been pushing the idea that S-Comm has nothing to do with agreements between state and federal governments in order to avoid the main argument behind the lawsuits.

ICE Director John Morton stated at the AILA Conference that there is a “fundamental misconception about Secure Communities is that somehow the program involves an agreement by the state for the exercise of federal immigration authority.” Principal Legal Adviser of ICE, Peter Vincent, also argued that the program does not even require local cooperation but upon the fingerprinting of a person in custody, the data is shared between two federal branches of government — the FBI and DHS. This latest announcement is just a culmination of those statements that serves a legal purpose: S-Comm is simply a federal program requiring no local or state cooperation.

Detaining and deporting thousands of undocumented immigrants on minor infractions does not affect the constitutionality of Secure Communities. Infringing on local and state authority does render the program unconstitutional. Nullifying all existing agreements and contracts is a clever legal step. Legal advocates will have to figure out a new strategy to stop the spread of the mandatory surveillance program.

In the meantime, it is advisable to go the way of San Francisco. No local and state cooperation should mean precisely that.

Watch this space for when our national advocates agree to S-COMM in exchange for a moratorium on DREAM-Act deportations and call it a victory.

I’d rather get deported.

DREAM Perception

Posted on by Prerna in Immigration | Leave a comment

Favianna Rodriguez, who is a really badass and talented Oakland-based artivist, just did some pieces on DREAMERS and our/their complexities. You can read about it on her blog. The image on the left is a portrait of me by Favianna inspired by one of my various rants. It’s always interesting to see how others see, perceive and envision you. How they present you to the world. And compare it to the image you have of yourself. I recognize my nose.

The exhibit runs June 11 – August 20th at Intersection for the Arts. 925 Mission Street at 5th Street in the iconic San Francisco Chronicle Building. In other words, it is hanging somewhere down the street from me. Maybe I should make an effort to gaze into those fiery eyes and learn something from the perception.


Posted on by Prerna in Human Rights | Leave a comment

If you read nothing today (and hopefully not any of my hormonal teenage crap), you should certainly read this piece:

Whenever people in the United States ask if I’ve ever been camping, I say “No, but does refugee camping count?” Apparently it’s only Real Camping if you take a shit in the deep woods. I had to shit in the desert in the wide open, and there was no environmentally friendly self-dissolving toilet paper out there. We used the sand as soap. I still believe it works. I have to.

The year was 1990. Iraq had just invaded Kuwait, and we didn’t know what was going to happen next. I was eight, I never knew anything anyways. I remember my parents trying to hold on to Kuwaiti Dinars, the old money. I remember seeing Iraqi soldiers, who were nice enough in the city to Indian immigrants with little kids. School was closed and I knew it was bad of me to be glad, but I was. We had sleepovers every night with my two best friends Aarti and Aru’s families. We danced, played cards, watched movies, and stayed up late every night.

Seriously. Do it. Then, send it to your friends and family members.

I shouldn’t be the only person to be rendered speechless and unproductive by this wonderful person and writer.

Placid Pool

Posted on by Prerna in Poetry | Leave a comment

I am a placid pool
You look at me,
speaking volumes with your eyes
I want to drown in them
Even when your eyes seem to drown within me.

You chatter non-stop, from nonsense to sense to more nonsense,
I listen quietly, never interrupting your onslaught,
Instead, I hear what you don’t say, feel what you can’t express,
understand what you cannot yet comprehend.

Your gentle whisper like a cool breeze
upon touching me
causes thousands of ripples
spreading far and wide
I feel warm in this wintry breeze.

Your warm hands caress me lovingly
whirlwinds of sensations after sensations churn up inside
I lose my mind, pleading silently that you would find and use it
afraid of these feelings raging through me, yet even more afraid that they would cease

You ignore my half-hearted pleas
teasing me with soft and light kisses
I simply quiver under your touch, unable to move and resist
shivering, even as you paint my nakedness with hot kisses

Tracing contours and digging through crevices
strong undercurrents beneath the surface,
the ripples are invaded and taken over by violent waves and splashes,
seemingly relentless and unstoppable,
and yet even with happy climax comes a painful withdrawal.

I become still and stagnant,
my life and heart a placid pool,
such that no ripples, no sign of disturbance is registered
save for the one you began with your one look.
I am a placid pool.


Posted on by Prerna in Novel | Leave a comment

But sexuality is fluid.”
Yes. My sexuality is very fluid in terms of moving from one woman to the next.”

I am writing a novel. I’m re-writing it as I write it. And I’m too possessive about it right now to share it with anyone for feedback. But I can promise plenty of women and sex, sordid affairs and dark humor, and several tales of almost too good to be true love.

We evolve as writers over time. We actually do get better with edits and re-edits. But it takes practice and consistency. I was incredibly pedantic at 23 and wrote terribly: “…colonialism is alive and enduring in the geographies of Chinese imagination that has employed narratives of discent in shaping a nation which suppresses and appropriates all ‘other’ histories while trumpeting a nationalist hegemonic history on the linear trajectory of past, present and future…” Then I started blogging for an audience that could hardly grasp that academic style and I knew I had to change it considerably.

I was a young poet. I tried my hand at creative writing and I was terrible at it in the beginning. I cannot bear reading some of my early pieces. But over time, I’ve realized that the more you grasp your characters, the more you feel for them, the better you get at writing them. They shape you and you shape them. Another important thing I realized is that I have to finish this piece while I’m in this space and zone. Otherwise, what I’ve written would seem foreign to me within a couple years. That’s how fast I feel myself growing and evolving. If I had to re-write parts of some of the fan-fiction I’ve written, it would be dark, morbid and satirical rather than some cheesy, love story.

I’ve a circular, non-linear writing style. It often leaves people dis-oriented and it is a desired effect. But I’m still struggling to avoid typecasting. No one wants to read yet another story about immigrants. This is not to say that I am necessarily writing about immigrants but a lot of the plot is derived from real-life events. A friend once told me that if I ever did write my memoir, people would take it to be fiction. I could probably take advantage of that. I haven’t come across anyone else who can inject humor into the most painful and humiliating aspects of their life. Tragic-comedy is a survival skill and I do have plenty of it to spare.

I also don’t want to be compared to other South Asian diaspora writers, especially since I’m nobody in comparison, since I am not writing for an audience but writing for myself. I’ll never be a Jhumpa Lahiri — she is too special. I don’t think I am meant to create brilliant postcolonial art  like Salman Rushdie. At the same time, I have my own voice, I’ve experienced great highs and lows, and what I have to share is unique, worthwhile and special.

“I Am Undocumented” T-shirts

Posted on by Prerna in Immigration | 1 Comment

I know $24 (which includes shipping and handling) is a lot to shell out for a t-shirt but you’ll be supporting a worthy cause.

Buy them here

Plus, I’ve been told that we make being undocumented pretty sexy and the t-shirts are awesome.

I won’t get into the gender and sexuality politics of that right now.

Morons of the Week: California State Bar Association Turns Into ICE

Posted on by Prerna in Immigration | 6 Comments

I thought lawyers usually became criminals after joining the bar but if you are undocumented, you need to try harder.

I know several attorneys who are undocumented but passed the bar and practice in California. Hence, it thoroughly disgusts me that the California state bar has started to act like Immigration and Customs Enforcement and is requiring hard-working undocumented student law graduates for their “papers please.”

Sergio Garcia was brought to this country from Mexico when he was 17 months old by his parents, the Daily Journal (sub. req.) reports in a lengthy article. The state bar only recently began asking applicants about their immigration status, so there apparently are other California lawyers already admitted to practice (the newspaper talked to at least one) who aren’t legal residents of the U.S.

Sponsored by a relative, Garcia says he’s been waiting 17 years for a green card and expects it could be another 15 years before he gets one. Noting that the vetting process is supposed to be about character and fitness to practice, he says “What was my moral duty at 17 months?”

Read more here.

Let’s be real. This isn’t just a bar on undocumented immigrant lawyers. It’s a bar on people of color lawyers.

I know lawyers who have admitted to using drugs and passed the “character and fitness” test. I know lawyers who have been arrested more than a dozen times and still passed this so-called “character and fitness” test. But I suppose the bar is concerned more with “fraud” and the use of fraudulent documents than real crimes.

I don’t understand how being undocumented can negatively affect the “character and fitness” of the student. If anything, any undocumented immigrant who can get through the highly prohibitive cost of law school and pass the tough bar in the state of California has more character and fitness than the average American can ever fathom. Maybe that is the problem: we are too good for the bar association and they need to up their standards.

What’s more perplexing is that the California State Bar should know that being undocumented is not a permanent immutable condition. Oftentimes, becoming a lawyer or holding an advanced degree is the ticket to becoming legalized through an EB-2 or H-1B visa. A matriculated and undocumented law student graduate is also more likely to gain prosecutorial discretion and legally gain work authorization from DHS without having been admitted to the United States. So placing a bar on undocumented immigrants is highly counter-productive and hateful, making no sense at all.

It’s morally despicable that someone is on trial for being undocumented when this country should be on trial for creating conditions that compel people to come here without papers and then stay here without papers so they are not separated from their loved ones.

I can’t wait to be in front of this panel.

Speaking Out: Invisible South Asian Americans

Posted on by Prerna in Desi | Leave a comment

I guest-blogged this relatively nice piece for South Asian Americans Leading Together last week:

Six undocumented immigrant youth — Dulce (18), Jessica (17), Felipe (24), Richie (16), Nataly (16) and Leeidy (16) — sat down in the middle of an intersection in Georgia this past week, in a protest against the latest wave of anti-immigrant terror unleashed by the Southern state.

It is not the first act of civil disobedience led by undocumented youth and it is certainly not the last as more of us come out of the shadows and demand our right to live in the United States.

And yet, where are the undocumented South Asian youth in this movement? As part of the sixth largest population of undocumented immigrants in the United States, it often pains me to be one of the only vocal ones.

“Rehne do. Chodho. Jaane do.”

These are infamous South Asian attitudes passed on to us by our wonderful mothers and fathers — to suffer in silence and not say anything, to not protest or create a fuss when things are not right, to not step into the public arena to fight for justice. It’s a conditioned survival skill that may even come handy at times. But it is troubling when that survival skill propagates and perpetuates a fear that makes it hard to live our lives fully.

That’s how a lot of the South Asian 1.5 generation grows up in America. Afraid about what people would say. Afraid to shatter expectations. Afraid to live. Afraid to breathe. Afraid, afraid and more afraid till the die we finally die. Yeh bhi koi jeena hai kya?

I lived like that for many years. It wasn’t living; it was surviving. Then I decided that I’m not interested in surviving. I’m interested in thriving.

Read more at The Invisible South Asians in the Undocumented Immigrant Youth Movement

American Exceptionalism vs. the “Damn Paki”

Posted on by Prerna in Desi, LGBTQ | Leave a comment

I think everyone should read about how ICE is trying to drug and deport a young immigrant back to South Africa and especially this in particular:

Immigration is not just black and white, fueled by immigrants’ search of money and better economic opportunities. There are many underlying socio-political forces and policies that drive migration flows, whether it be NAFTA, genocide, war, drugs and other goods, or the still-too-relevant effects of imperial colonialism. People are quick to say, “Oh, Country X has had its independence for 38 years now! You can’t possibly blame the problems it has today on Imperial Country A; stop being so sensitive.” Au contraire, mon frère. A country might be independent on paper, but the effects of colonial rule are made to cripple domestic growth and silence the voices of “uncivilized natives” to the point that damage becomes deep-rooted, dooming future generations to colonization by corporations and the imprisonment that come with lack of autonomy.

I’m glad Ms. Bello — a good friend — is pushing the envelope and talking about neo-colonialism and neo-liberalism as an integral part of immigration to America. Of course, our politicians do not want to talk about it. Most of the immigration reform movement won’t touch it with a 10-foot pole.

Too often, stories of exceptional immigrants, miracle walkers and TV personalities serve to perpetuate the myth of the American dream. What’s lost in this narrative is not only the murderous side of American Empire but also the impact of neo-liberal capitalism on developing and underdeveloped economies, which compels people to flee to America.

It happened to my great-(great) grandparents. They were lied to and compelled to leave their homes in an India under British rule to go and work on the sugar-cane plantations of the Fiji Islands as indentured servants. The Indian indenture system was started after the “end of slavery” in America as a way to continue the same old system with a new name? During the Civil War, the availability of cotton drastically fell around the world since Americans no longer had access to free black labor to work in the cotton fields. To alleviate this dramatic fall in the cotton supply, Americans zeroed in on the Fiji Islands. It seemed like a good idea at the time to steal some land from the warring tribes of Fiji or give them guns, alcohol and disease in exchange for valuable land. The story is all too familiar.

But it didn’t work out quite as planned. The Fijians killed and ate some American missionary who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Appalled, the United States demanded payment for his life. The Fijians did not have a Eurocentric form of government or currency and they tried to cede themselves to the United States as payment. America refused. After some back and forth, the British accepted to pay the American debt and take over the islands of Fiji. They started using it as a sugar-cane colony, importing over 60,000 Indians to work in Fiji as indentured servants. A hundred years later, an American-supported anti-labor and anti-Indian coup would ensure the migration of thousands of Indians once again, in search of a new home.
Read more

Irony of You

Posted on by Prerna in Poetry | Leave a comment

Eagle Lake, Albany NY

I am asked to think about myself

Then why do I only remember you?

I start to speak

But my words are only about you.

All my paths lead away from you

Then why do my thoughts follow you?

No matter what the question

The answer is only you.

We are miles apart

Then why do I feel your presence next to me?

The closer I get to you

The further away you seem

I don’t remember meeting you

Then why can’t I seem to forget you?

I see you in every girl

And yet you are nowhere to be found.