Posted by Tess Waggoner on May 01, 2019 in Blog

Arab American Leadership Days, an annual advocacy and leadership program that brings community leaders together in D.C., kicked off this morning, Wednesday May 1st, 2019. Dr. Jim Zogby, the co-founder and President of AAI, Maya Berry, AAI's Executive Director, and Samer Khalaf, the President of ADC (American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee) delivered opening remarks to welcome participants and gave a brief policy update on the challenges facing the Arab American community.

Zogby provided historical context to this week's gathering, describing the development of Arab American civic advocacy. He outlined not only the breadth of challenges Arab-Americans face, but the incredible capacity and ability that has been developed to face those challenges as well. “Think of the progress we’ve made”, Zogby said, reflecting on the barriers he and peers faced while working to organize Arab Americans over the last 40 years.

Zogby encouraged the crowd to build coalitions without diluting the unique contributions, heritage and common purpose of the Arab American community. He urged attendees to consider ways to use the internal diversity of the Arab American community to advance common goals, saying, “We cannot let people bring those divisions into the work that we do.” Addressing the lead-up to the 2020 presidential election, Zogby stressed the importance of engaging with candidates to address the issues that matter to Arab Americans, both at home and in the region. “It is our job to make them talk about it…we cannot let go…these are our people,” Zogby said. 

Khalaf also framed our gathering in terms of the difficulty facing the community due to challenges heightened by policies of the Trump administration. He identified the recent decision by this administration to charge those seeking asylum fees to enter the country. He described the advocacy training and legal assistance workshops ADC has been providing through town halls to address these issues. 

Khalaf and Berry also brought up the issue of countering violent extremism (CVE) programs that unjustly target Arab American communities and the outsourcing of such programs to local governments and police forces. Berry highlighted the conflated narrative of domestic terrorism and hate crime, and the disproportionate discrimination Arab Americans face, with a major increase in hate crime but massive underreporting.

Berry also briefly highlighted some of the other core policy areas for Arab Americans, including surveillance. She cited a case in Orlando in which AAI fought against the implementation of facial recognition technology for use by law enforcement. 

She also touched on legislative strategies currently being pursued in the current climate, including efforts in Congress to advance legislation that would improve federal hate crime reporting and data collection. These efforts should receive bipartisan and bicameral support. Another piece of legislation she highlighted is the recently introduced NO BAN Act, which would restrict the authority in federal immigration law that President Trump invoked to execute his Muslim, Refugee and Asylum-seekers bans. 

All three leaders made clear that the challenges we face are neither unprecedented, nor insurmountable. Due to our long history of organizing and working together, we can and will face down any attempt to silence or weaken the rights of Arab Americans. By engaging in the hard work of building a better democracy together, the strength and resolve of the Arab American community will only grow. We will be updating you throughout the program and the week. You can follow our events by tracking the hashtag #ArabAmericansLead