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Racial and Religious Profiling: What will be the Toll on our Children?

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By Priya Murthy, Policy Director of South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT),

The last ten years have been needlessly difficult for South Asians living in New York.

South Asians, and in particular, Sikhs and Muslims, have faced ten years of profiling, ten years of negative encounters with law enforcement and immigration officers.  These encounters have left deep scars. Here is how one 18-year-old Bangladeshi student in Queens relates his experience of being arrested over a baseless charge. "I felt like I was being threatened more than just being questioned," he said. "I was just always scared."

And he was worried that he'd now have an arrest record, which would adversely affect his chances of getting a job. He was also upset that his parents were ashamed by the arrest.

This week, a coalition of South Asian organizations is releasing a report, In Our Own Words: Narratives of South Asian New Yorkers Affected by Racial and Religious Profiling. Here you will find other stories of fellow New Yorkers who, like this Bangladeshi student, have suffered from prejudice over the last decade.

The encounters South Asians have with law enforcement have made them question how they lead their lives. Should I join my college’s Muslim Students Association? Should I wear my turban or hijab on this flight? Should I call the police about a crime I witnessed? These daily decisions are ones that many might take for granted, but for South Asian, Muslim, Sikh and Arab community members, a particular choice could mean being humiliated in public at the airport, being interrogated by the FBI or immigration authorities, or being worried about going to school.

The psychological impact of ten years of ongoing scrutiny and targeting on our community members cannot be understated.  Our collective psyche has been shaped by the experiences of living in post-9/11 America, and future generations of South Asians, Muslims, Sikhs and Arab Americans will be forced to wrangle with questions of identity, history, shame, and our place in America.

At the same time, our report also suggests that change can occur, both by government agencies and law enforcement, as well as within our schools and families.  We have a responsibility and the opportunity to create a different future for the next generation of America’s children, regardless of their ethnicity, color, or religious affiliation. We must work to change both policy and public sentiment in our classrooms, workplaces, and community spaces to ensure that children feel safe and wanted, acknowledged and valued.  In today’s post-9/11 world, we cannot aim for any less.

Priya Murthy is Policy Director of South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), which is part of a collaborative of seven organizations that recently released a report on profiling in New York City. Read the report here.

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