New Brunswick, NJ - Inspiring South Asian American Women (ISAAW) held a forum on immigration and recent policy changes on October 4 at the Eagleton Institute of Politics.  The panel consisted of Asma Warsi, an immigration attorney and member of the Muslim Bar Association; Navneet Bhalla, Executive Director of Manavi; Dr. Nina Agarwal, co-chair of the Injury and Violence Prevention Committee at the American Academy of Pediatrics (NY Chapter) and Director of the Child Advocacy Center at Lincoln Medical Center in the South Bronx; and Amol Sinha, Executive Director of American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey.

The panel addressed an array of topics including the impact of the Muslim travel ban on South Asian American communities and how changes in asylum protection policies impact South Asian survivors of domestic violence.  The panel also discussed the effect of immigration and separation on vulnerable populations, such as children, and restrictions on green card holders. Another issue discussed at the event was the impact on civil liberties for South Asian Americans.

“What the travel ban has essentially done is if you are not a green card holder who comes from [the targeted] country, you are not guaranteed entry,” said Asma Warsi. “One of the most important things people need to understand about the immigration system is that it is discretionary” she said, adding “there’s not a lot of things that the legal system can do to challenge that.”

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Dr. Nina Agarwal spoke of  the trauma children face who have been affected by immigration. “There’s emotional trauma, there’s fears that they have, and death,” said Dr. Agarwal. “Toxic stress is when a child experiences stress every day, they can’t recover from that. Their cortisone levels go high and are always elevated, so they’re always stressed out. This distorts brain architecture and puts them at risk for behavioral problems and developmental problems” she added. “How you prevent that issue is have a child with a stable, nurturing environment. So I think it is important that children stay with their parents.”

Anmol Sinha added, “I think what the Trump administration is doing right now is incredibly scary. They are sending messages to the world that Americans should be afraid of people that don’t look like them. And they have this idea in their head of what it means to be an American. But unfortunately, most people with brown skin don’t fit their description of what it means to be an American. They will do whatever they can to limit all sorts of immigration to the United States. It's a top down perpetuation of hate and fear that's being tricked into our minds and our subconscious.”

After the presentations by the panelists, attendees had the opportunity to ask questions and speak more on the future of immigrant families.  Many attendees shared personal stories and how these policy changes affected their family, or will affect their family in the future.