The resolution, sponsored by Rep. Daniel Biss, (D-Skokie), is more of a statement against anti-Asian bigotry than a legal measure. But it has impact because it comes on the heels of numerous attacks against the South Asian community. Those attacks, in Chicago and across the U.S., provide evidence of growing intolerance the fast-growing community faces.
“We feel that an attack on anyone of us is an attack of all of us, and it’s certainly a threat to all of us,” said Ami Gandhi, executive director of South Asian American Policy and Research Institute. “We are all vulnerable, especially in the South Asian community, and we also need to stand up [against] attacks on anyone, regardless of their race or religion.”
The legislators’ resolution goes hand in hand with a “Chicago New Americans Plan” Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced just yesterday through the city’s Office of New Americans. That plan, part of the mayor’s plan to make Chicago the “most American of American cities,” outlines 27 initiatives to make the city more immigrant-friendly.
In the U.S., South Asians often receive a less-than-friendly reception. In August, a massacre at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin left seven Sikh community members dead. Also in August, two Islamic institutions in Illinois reported that their buildings had been damaged, including one incident in which an explosive bottle was thrown into a crowd of worshippers.
The resolution “adds to the healing process of damage done to my Sikh American community,” said Rajinder Majo of Palatine, citing the Oak Creek temple massacre as the inspiration behind the resolution. Majo is a Sikh community leader who worked with Gandhi on the language used in the resolution, and calls the resolution “a sign that Americans care” for his community.
The resolution, which backers say is the first of its kind from a U.S. state legislative body, mirrors a similar resolution that was passed in the City of Chicago this past September; that too denounces hateful actions and rhetoric, and promotes the education of diverse cultures and religions. Though the laws come out strongly against hate crimes, they do not set a clear set of goals on how to achieve that goal.
“We hope the resolution will provide an agenda for even more specific laws for the future,” SAAPRI’s Gandhi said.
She says she hopes the state and city law will help facilitate conversations with frontline government personnel, including those who interact with members of the general public: health care providers, driver’s license issuers, and other customer service providers. By providing competency training to government personnel, she says they would be better able to understand the needs of the immigrant community.
The resolution “is a first step in acknowledging that there is a greater need to devote resources to prevent hate crimes,” said Ekta Arneja, regional coordinator of United Sikhs, a non-profit advocacy group. “The South Asian community and the Illinois government must work together to create further programs that help safeguard the communities after the resolution passes,” she added.
Though the resolution pays particular attention to people of South Asian descent, Gandhi says it is meant to be inclusive of all ethnic communities. The language in the resolution was carefully constructed by SAAPRI, though many groups were involved, including the Asian American Institute and Shoulder-to-Shoulder, an interfaith organization which includes Muslim, Jewish, and Christian community leaders. The Council on American-Islamic Relations chapter in Chicago was also a major player.
“We support our government when they are speaking out against hate,” said Rabya Khan, staff attorney for CAIR-Chicago. “We want to encourage hate-free dialogue within the political context.”
Rep. Biss, of Skokie, said the resolution he helped sponsor aims to address the growing concerns of the community. “I was extremely saddened and disappointed to hear about the recent acts of violence against the Sikh and Muslim communities,” he said in a prepared statement.
“Hateful actions like these are meant to make people of different religions and races feel isolated and marginalized,” he said. “I wanted to put forth this resolution to let members of the Sikh and Muslim communities know that we stand with them, that we support them, that we are proud that they are part of our communities and that we will not tolerate this violence against them.”
Since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, South Asian, Sikh, Muslim, and Arab Americans have been the target of numerous hate crimes, as well as employment discrimination, bullying, harassment, and profiling. In addition, places of worship have been vandalized and attacked.
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, over 6,600 hate crimes, or about 18 hate crimes a day, were reported nationally in 2010 alone. The largest number of those crimes, 47 percent, were motivated by race; religion-based hate crimes accounted for 20 percent, sexual orientation 19 percent, and ethnicity or national origin, represented approximately 13 percent.
SAALT, or South Asian Americans Leading Together, plan to use this measure to further urge that law-enforcement officials categorize and track anti-Sikh, anti-Hindu, and anti-Arab American hate crimes. According to SAALT, current anti-religion hate crimes are independently assessed by the FBI only if they occur against Jews, Muslims, Catholics and Protestants, while other religions are grouped together with minimal distinction.
“We encourage the FBI to disaggregate the hate crimes reported under the Asian/Pacific Islander category by specific Asian ethnic groups; as such information would be extremely helpful given the tremendous diversity within the Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander communities,” SAALT said in a press release. “We recommend that once reported, these statistics be published in a report to Congress so that adequate measures may be taken to protect Americans.”
The city and state resolutions are a part of the larger effort the City of Chicago is making to ensure Chicago is the most immigrant-friendly city in the United States.
The Mayor’s Office and the Office of New Americans unveiled the “Chicago New Americans Plan” Tuesday, which outlines 27 initiatives the City will take over the next three years to bring economic growth and prosperity to the community.
During a press conference Tuesday, Mayor Emanuel said Chicago is the “most American of American cities” in the United States.
“No other city has put together a more comprehensive plan about welcoming immigrants to the city,” Emanuel told reporters.