The National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance marked Asian Pacific American Heritage Month by organizing with its member organizations a week of action from May 7 to May 15 to “highlight the harm caused by legalized profiling on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity by local law enforcement,” according to a press release.
Called #RedefineSecurity, the week of action includes events to engage attendees in reimagining safety in Asian and Pacific Islander communities and to push back against police presence at June LGBTQ Pride events, which advocates argue would create a safer space for trans and gender-nonconforming people, undocumented folks, and other vulnerable communities.
Sasha W., the organizing director at NQAPIA, told Rewire that plans for the week of action have been in the works for almost a year. Attendees at a national conference in August 2015 expressed major concern about profiling and in large part, the organizer said, it was because of President Obama’s Priority Enforcement Program (PEP), which encourages local law enforcement to work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
As part of PEP, when an undocumented person is arrested by local law enforcement, their fingerprints will be sent to ICE.
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For months now, NQAPIA has been calling on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to stop profiling immigrants, even creating a petition demanding that the “profiling and harassment on the basis of basis of race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity should be illegal in immigration enforcement, including in PEP—and these practices should not lead to the detention or deportation of vulnerable communities.”
Sasha W. says that Asian Americans, Southeast Asians, South Asians, and Pacific Islanders are routinely profiled by local law enforcement and immigration officials, with South Asians and Muslims profiled as “terrorists” and Southeast Asians regularly profiled as gang members.
“When you consider the rise in Islamophobia, especially following the Paris attacks, ISIS, and this particular election year, we decided taking on issues of profiling in our communities is really important. The Black Lives Matter movement has really opened up the space to talk about these issues,” the organizer said. “It’s often the people at the margins of our communities who are most impacted by this profiling. In the work NQAPIA does, this means uplifting the voices of gender-nonconforming folks, trans people, and the South Asian population. These are people who have firsthand experience with state violence and who also suffer under profiling.”
In December 2014, the Department of Justice announced new guidelines for curbing racial profiling by federal law enforcement, but as the Washington Post reported, DHS officials are not be covered by the racial profiling ban when they “screen airline passengers and guard the country’s Southwestern border.”
“Of course we were disappointed when exemptions were made for agencies related to national security,” they said. “A lot of the agencies we’re most concerned with were a part of that guidance. We want to see the end to the legalized profiling of our communities. Right now, all the profiling that happens, whether it’s through [the Transportation Security Administration] or ICE or Border Patrol, is completely legal by letter of the law.”
NQAPIA’s petition is also demanding that DHS prohibit not just profiling based on race and international origin, but gender identity and sexual orientation as well.
“We’re hearing more and more trans and gender-nonconforming people talk about their interactions with TSA as increasingly traumatic and dangerous. People are outted in really awful ways, people have their physical self violated as they’re patted down and assumed to be a different gender than they are. It’s unacceptable,” the organizer said.
In addition, the organization’s petition is calling for a way to prove that profiling actually happens. Without releasing its own guidelines on what constitutes profiling, Sasha W. told Rewire, DHS creates an environment where it can’t be held accountable.
“We need DHS to actually define profiling so that when profiling happens, we can prove it happened. And more importantly, we’re demanding that charges that result from profiling get thrown out,” they said. “For example, if somebody is picked up by ICE and they find themselves in deportation proceedings, there should be ways to reverse the impact of that profiling. So if the entry point was profiling, any evidence that came from that should be considered illegal.”
The next event in NQAPIA’s week of action takes place on May 15 in Seattle. Although each event of the week of action is different and will feature diverse speakers from each location, Sasha W. told Rewire they hope that events such as the one held on May 7 in Los Angeles, where three members of the Asian and Pacific Islander community shared personal stories about profiling and policing and how those things impacted their lives, inspires communities to question what safety means in their communities and to reimagine what it looks like.
“We want people to really envision alternatives to police,” Sasha W. said. “A lot of times in campaigns we critique what’s going on without offering a solution. So, how can we re-envision safety? For some people that might look like abolishing the TSA or DHS or being left alone when they walk down the street as a trans woman. We recognize that the way the State defines safety doesn’t work for us or our communities, so we need to define it for ourselves.”