White House and U.S. Department of Education officials described hearing Sikh youth's stories as 'eye-opening'.
The Sikh Coalition would like to share two significant developments in the Western Region. Over the past month, federal agencies have begun to substantively engage our Western Region Office in Fremont, California on issues the Sikh community is facing locally and nationally.
Homeland Security Meeting Hosted by Coalition
On the evening of Tuesday, April 27th, the Sikh Coalition's Western Region Office hosted a community engagement event organized by the Department of Homeland Security Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL). The agency invited a variety of civil rights organizations to discuss concerns related to DHS policies as they affect Bay Area residents. The attending organizations included the ACLU of Northern California, the Asian Law Caucus, Muslim Advocates, immigrant rights groups and others. DHS officials attended from Washington, DC, and local officials attended from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
The Sikh Coalition agreed to host the meeting in order to promote government accountability towards communities impacted by security policies. The meeting lasted well over three hours and the group had a robust discussion on the following civil rights topics:
TSA's screening policies of religious headwear, use of advanced imaging technology, and privacy concerns;
ICE's detention reforms;
USCIS's citizenship and immigration services and processing delays;
CRCL's civil rights complaint process.
This was a unique and welcome forum to engage the community on matters of substance. The Sikh Coalition will work to ensure DHS makes engagement of the Bay Area and other areas with large Sikh populations a priority. Feedback from the Sikh community is critical to ensuring the protection of civil rights.
Sikh Families Meet with Senior Officials from U.S. Department of Education & White House
Three senior White House and federal agency officials met with Sikh students and parents last week with the aim of understanding the problems faced by Sikh and other South Asian students in schools.
The event was attended by 20 students and their parents. The White House and federal agency officials who attended the meetings were:
Peter Groff, Director of the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships for the U.S. Dept. of Education;
Paul Monteiro, President Obama's Religious Liaison and Assistant Director in the White House Office of Public Engagement;
Kevin Jennings, Director of the Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools of the U.S. Dept. Of Education
Youth had the opportunity to narrate their first-hand experiences of harassment and bullying from students due to their Sikh identity. They also described a lack of knowledge and empathy on Sikhism from teachers. The conversation then moved to discussing strategies to addressing these forms of discrimination.
The Sikh Coalition thanks the ING (Islamic Networks Group) for hosting the important event. President of ING, Maha Elgenaidi wrote the Coalition stating, "I think your testimony was extremely IMPACTFUL!!! They'd only heard about the issues from me but it was quite impressive to hear it directly from the kids, parents and you."