Daya Seminar Offers Insights on Immigration Reform, Race Relations


Expert panelists for the seminar were Damaris Nicholson (left) Gordon Quan, Wafa Abdin, Deepa Iyer and Cherry Steinwender. Mustafa
Tameez (far right) served as the moderator. While Quan, Abdin and Iyer participated in the fi rst panel on immigration reform, Nicholson
and Steinwinder joined Iyer for the second panel on race relations.

By Pramod Kulkarni

HOUSTON: Daya’s mission is to help South Asian families in crisis. At this year’s annual seminar, Daya focused on two public policy issues that have a direct impact on South Asian families dealing with issues of domestic violence: immigration reform and race relations.

Titled “White House to Hillcroft”, the seminar featured insightful presentations and discussions by two sets of subject matter experts. The seminar was held Saturday, September 28 morning at the Hilton Southwest.

The experts for the Immigration Reform panel were Deepa Iyer, Executive Director of Washington DC-based SAALT (South Asian Americans Leading Together), a national, non-profit organization that addresses issues affecting South Asians through a social justice lense.


Deepa Iyer is DC-based executive director of South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT).

Local experts, who joined Iyer, were Attorneys Gordon Quan, Co-Chair of immigration law firm Foster Quan and former Mayor Pro-Terrm, City of Houston; and Wafa Abdin, Vice President, Immigration Legal Services, Catholic Charities.

Joining Iyer for the Race Relations panel were local experts: Cherry Steinwender, Executive Director, Center for the Healing of Racism; and Damaris Nicholson, Disproportionality Specialist, Texas Health & Human Services Commission, Austin. Mustafa Tameez, Founder and Managing Director of Outreach Strategies in Houston, served as the moderator with a great sense of humor and sensibility.

In her welcome address, Daya Board Member Leona Christy explained how two out of every five South Asian families are affected by domestic violence. “Daya answers over 4,000 phone calls for help in one of 16 languages and has helped 315 clients through various types of assistance, including legal and job counseling and temporary shelter.”


Dr. Stephen Klineberg, Co-Director, Rice University’s Kinder
Institute for Urban Research, presented his demographic research
on the rise of the Asian communities in Houston.

Dr. Klineberg set the stage for the discussion by presenting demographic data on the four surveys Asians in greater Houston area through surveys conducted under his direction. Dr. Klineberg explained how the 1965 immigration reform act triggered the immigration of people from outside of Europe.

Painting a positive picture of the Asian community, Dr. Klineberg explained that 71% of South Asians in the Houston and Fort Bend countries have college degrees, compared to only 37% of Anglo Americans. “Over 36% of South Asians have income over $71,000 per year,” he said

Dr. Klineberg also explained the rise of a new generation of Asian Americans. “In 1995, only 10% of the Asians in Houston were U.S. born, In 2011, the number had risen to 31%.”

Interestingly, 61% of the younger generation are romantically involved with a person of different race. “By 2050, the U.S. will have the same demographic composition that Fort Bend county now has—25% white, 25% black, 25% hispanic and 25% Asian. The U.S. will have become a minority majority nation.”

Explaining how the racial composition has changed already, Dr. Klineberg revealed, “Mitt Romney would have been elected president just eight years ago, as he had won 60% of the white vote. However, he lost 70% of the Asian and Hispanic vote and over 90% of the black vote.”

During the panel discussion on Immigration Reform, Deepa Iyer said while the South Asian community is successful at large, there is a large minority of South Asians, who are unemployed and struggling with lack of insurance and legal status. “Of the 3.4 million South Asians in the U.S.,, 1.8 million are waiting for family reunification. About 7% are illegal immigrants,” Iyer said. “There are also issues associated with people, who are working as domestic servants in the informal sector.”

Gordon Quan urged Asians to speak out on immigration reform. “We’re stereotyped as being quiet. We can make a difference by making our views known. Plus, there are economic benefits of bringing into the workforce 11-million young, taxpaying population.”

Iyer said the U.S. Senate has passed Bill S744, which clears the immigration backlog, but has many limitations. The U.S House is yet to consider as many as 11 proposals. “A majority of the representatives are undecideds,” Iyer said. “Your letters and phone calls to your representatives will have an impact.” In the second panel on race relations, Iyer revealed the plight of the South Asians with the title of her presentation, “Spelling bee champions, Miss Americas and Terrorist Threats?”

Iyer described a long line of racial attacks on South Asians since the killing of Navroj Modi by Dotbusters in the 1980s. Most attackers do not know the difference between Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus, Iyer explained.  Blacks struggled with racism until the 1965 civil rights act. Similarly, 9/11 schooled us in racism in America. Panelist Damaris Nicholson explained her Ausin role as a disproportionality specialist. Unique in the entire nation, her office examines state programs such as foster care and welfare and check to make sure one minority is not the subject of discrimination.

Perhaps the most passionate of speakers was Cherry Steinwender.  After reading a poem about the polarization in America after 9/11 with the Statue of Liberty shedding a tear. Steinwender got to the crux of the racsim by asking the audience how many of them had invited somone of another race home for dinner.

The program concluded with a vote of thanks from President-elect Jyoti Kulkarni and a commitment from current President Padmini Nathan to continue advocacy programs in associations such as SAALT.

Daya’s next event is “One Voice Against Domestic Violence’, scheduled Saturday, October 26 at Hillcroft from 10 am to 1 pm.