Indian American Immigrant Rights Advocate to Head SAALT


United StatesSuman Raghunathan, an advocate known equally for her work on immigrant rights and affordable housing issues, will join South Asian Americans Leading Together Feb. 3 as the national organization’s new executive director.

Raghunathan currently serves as an advocacy and policy strategist for the Immigrant Rights Project at the national American Civil Liberties Union. The Indian American activist also serves on the board of directors for the Chhaya Community Development Corporation, a non-profit organization aiming at gaining greater access to affordable housing for South Asian Americans living in New York. She has previously served with the National Immigration Law Center, the Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights Education Fund and United Neighborhood Houses, among other initiatives.

“I am proud to lead such an influential, connected organization as SAALT as its next executive director,” Raghunathan told India-West, shortly after an announcement was released Jan. 7.
“Building upon the excellent work and inspiring vision of SAALT’s founding executive director, Deepa Iyer, I look forward to working with SAALT’s diverse partners, including members of the National Council of South Asian Organizations, to forge a path toward racial, immigrant, and economic justice for the nation’s spectrum of South Asian communities,” she said.
“We have considerable work ahead of us, and I’m confident that together we can continue to cultivate strong and progressive South Asian voices on issues ranging from civil rights to xenophobia to health access and gender equity that make a difference to our nation as a whole,” Raghunathan said.
In a press statement, outgoing executive director Iyer said she was pleased to see Raghunathan step into the role. “SAALT has been a labor of love for me for over ten years, and I am fully invested in supporting Suman, and our staff and board members, during this transition and beyond,” she said.
Iyer announced her resignation last July, saying she was planning to “rest and reflect, write and teach.”
“I intend to find ways to be of service as I find the next arc of my journey,” said Iyer last July, noting that SAALT took shape in a one-room, windowless office in Manhattan, as the South Asian American community grappled for an identity after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The organization has since moved to Takoma Park, Maryland, and – in 2009 – was instrumental in developing the National Coalition of South Asian Organizations, an umbrella group of 43 community-based organizations.
SAALT and the NCSO have lobbied members of Congress for better data collection methods of hate crimes against South Asians. The groups have also campaigned for a pathway to legalization for the nation’s 11 million undocumented residents, and have supported Senate legislation protecting immigrant battered women.
“Suman has the optimal combination of skills, experience, and ability to connect to people that will deepen SAALT’s social change mission and expand our reach. She is a passionate advocate who is sure to identify and implement strategic and innovative opportunities to amplify the voices of South Asians in the United States,” said Nitasha Sawhney, co-chair of the SAALT Board of Directors.
By Indiawest