Indian-American and South Asian attorneys say they are on frontlines fighting for immigrants’ rights

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U.S. Congresswoman Grace Meng, D-NY, center, with outgoing president of the South Asian Bar Association of North America Rishi Bagga, left, and incoming President Sundeep Sandhu, right, June 28, at the start of the three-day 15th Annual Conference of SABA in New York. (Photo: SABA)

Good lawyers are the need of the hour when nativism is rearing its head in this country, and Indian-American lawyers and others in this field must “carry the torch” for protecting the rights of South Asians immigrants said high-profile speakers in their keynote speeches and in panels at the recent 15th Annual Conference of the South Asian Bar Association of North America (SABA),

Over a three-day period, June 28-30 in New York City, lawmakers from Congress and Indian-American lawyers, judges, academicians and activists discussed what they saw as a changing environment in the country where new immigrants were facing barriers.

“There’s something very special about being a lawyer…Good lawyers have never been more important than now, the rule of law has never been more important than now,” said Preet Bharara, former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York who was fired by President Trump and now hosts a eponymous podcast and is the legal analyst for CNN. He addressed the concluding gala June 30.

Among the high profile speakers at the conference were Senator Cory Booker, D-NJ, Congresswoman Grace Meng, D-NY, and 9th Circuit Judge Srikanth ‘Sri’ Srinivasan.

The Conference kicked off with a Welcome Reception, featuring Rep. Meng, D-NY, whose  6th District in New York City has a significant number of Indian-American residents.

“Honored to have @RepGraceMeng join us at #sabalegal‘s Welcome Reception! She reminded us why it’s important as lawyers to participate in the world. Thank you,” SABA tweeted June 28.  At the concluding gala,Sen. Booker addressed a packed room about turning “our connections into movements!” SABA tweeted. “You can’t love your country unless you love your countrymen and countrywomen,” Booker said, quipping that “If America hasn’t broken your heart lately, you haven’t loved her enough.”

Former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara gesturing as he speaks at the 15th Annual Conference of the South Asian Bar Association of North America, held June 28-30 in New York. (Photo: SABA Twitter)

Booker also went on to say that “Cynicism is the refuge for cowards,” and that individuals or organizations have the choice “to accept things as they are or take responsibility for changing them.”

Bharara echoed the comments of Sen. Booker – encouraging SABA members to continue “joining together in solidarity … by taking the effort to speak, march, vote or do other things necessary to fight for what they believe in.”

Rishi Bagga, immediate past president of SABA, set the tone for the conference when he spoke about the environment new immigrants face today. “We now live in a time when legal protections for immigrants are under attack; when nativist sentiments and rhetoric have sought to divide those who were born here from those who were not; at a time when our community’s lawyers must Carry the Torch for the South Asian immigrant community and other immigrant communities,” Bagga is quoted saying in his speech in a press release from SABA. It is also “a time when SABA must continue to work to ensure greater diversity and inclusion with the legal profession at large,” Bagga said.

The judges who attended the conference included Cathy Bissoon, Raja Rajeswari,  Sanket Bulsara,  Sri Srinivasan, and  Raj Chatterjee.

This year’s programming also focused on ways South Asian attorneys could bring diversity to the legal profession. For example, Vice President and U.S. General Counsel for McDonald’s Corporation, Mahrukh Hussain,  joined a panel of women general counsels to discuss the paths they chose and challenges they faced in their careers. In addition, a plenary panel focused on the pros, cons and consequences of choosing a life in the public eye, featured Mayor of Hoboken, N.J., Ravi Bhalla; Sudha Setty, dean of Western New England School of Law; Florida’s Solicitor General Amit Agarwal; Sayu Bhojwani, president, New American Leaders Project; and Nisha Agarwal, former commissioner of the NYC Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs.

The SABA Foundation, the charitable arm of SABA, also held its Annual Benefit during the Conference. The SABA Foundation supports organizations that provide critical services to the most vulnerable members of the South Asian Community and awarded grants to the women’s organization. This year, Manavi, South Asian American Policy & Research Institute (SAAPRI), Kiran, Inc., Narika and the Innovation Law Lab received these awards.  SABA Foundation also honored comedian and activist, Hari Kondabolu, with its first Hero Award for his work raising awareness and improving the lives of South Asians in North America.

The new President and Executive Committee of SABA for 2018-2019 were sworn in. Incoming  President, Sundeep Sandhu, emphasized the role the organization will continue to play in improving the general welfare of the South Asian community in North America. “Issues with respect to diversity and inclusion, civil rights and access to justice have never been more prevalent than they are today and SABA members have been unwavering in their dedication to addressing these issues,” Sandhu said, pointing in particular to the protests against separating migrant families at the border.

The South Asian Bar Association of North America has 26 chapters in the United States and Canada.

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