The Arab American Association of New York (AAANY) was founded in December 2001 by a number of prominent Arab immigrants residing in Brooklyn. At the organization's inception, its founders were deeply concerned by what they described as “the heightened sense of fear and the acts of blatant discrimination aimed at [the Muslim] community” in that immediate post-9/11 period. Co-founder and current board president Ahmad Jaber recalls that “instead of social services, we had to move into empowering the community, defending the community, and supporting the community. It was not easy. We had to prove ourselves as Americans, to show that we do care, that we are part of the community.”
Today, AAANY's mission is to: “support and empower the Arab Immigrant and Arab American community” by “providing services to help them adjust to their new home and become active members of society”; “serve as a bridge between the Arab community and the greater New York City community”; “foste[r] more understanding of Arab culture and immigrant issues”; “serv[e] as a liaison between schools, government and other institutions and residents”; “address issues of discrimination”; and “provid[e] a variety of culturally sensitive social services.”
Linda Sarsour has been the executive director of AAANY since 2005.
AAANY's major programs currently include the following:
1) Adult Education
This program provides Arab residents of New York with one-to-one instruction and preparation for the United States Citizenship Exam. It also offers classes in ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages), most of which, “in order to provide a culturally sensitive learning environment in which students can feel most comfortable,” are for women only. Some mixed-gender classes are available as well, however.
2) Advocacy & Civic Engagement (ACE)
- A major initiative of this program is the Law-Enforcement Accountability Campaign, which seeks to prevent NYPD personnel from secretly surveilling mosques, businesses, and organizations suspected of promoting Islamic jihadism. Particularly troubling to AAANY was a leaked 2013 police document indicating that confidential informants had tried to infiltrate the Association's board of directors. In an effort to “end discriminatory policing practices impacting people of color and religious minorities,” AAANY has also fought against so-called “stop-and-frisk” policing tactics that allegedly “target communities of color.” And the Association played a key role in helping to pass the Community Safety Act, which expanded the definition of bias-based profiling and created an independent inspector general to review police policy in New York City.
- Another major ACE project is the Muslim School Holidays Campaign, which in 2015 successfully persuaded the New York City Department of Education and Mayor Bill de Blasio to designate the Muslim holy days of Eid Ul-Fitr and Eid Ul-Adha as official holidays in the public-school calendar.
- The Arab Women Activists & Leaders initiative is an organizing collective that “connects Arab women and other women of color in New York City,” on the premise that all nonwhite females share, to varying degrees, common experiences as victims of what AAANY views as a racist, sexist, Islamophobic society. This project also “trains women to become organizers in their communities who raise political consciousness and mobilize around issues important to them.”
3) Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals
AAANY strongly supported President Barack Obama's June 2012 executive order enacting the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which gave lawful permanent residency status, work authorization, and protection from deportation, to millions of illegal immigrants who had first come to the U.S. as minors and were not yet 35 years old. “If you think you might be eligible for DACA,” says AAANY, “please contact us! We can do a free screening to see if you are eligible, we can refer you to FREE legal services (that might be able to cover application fee) and FREE English and GED classes. We can also help you navigate the application process.”
4) Social Services
AAANY provides Arab Americans with a host of Caseworker Services including: bilingual case management; access to healthcare for “low-income, documented and undocumented individuals”; public benefits eligibility screening; translation and interpretation services; job application and resume assistance; referrals for services related to mental health, child therapy, and substance abuse; and referrals to other networks and agencies as necessary. The organization also provides Legal & Immigration Services that include: free legal consultations; citizenship classes and mock citizenship interviews; referrals to AAANY's network of lawyers, doctors and affiliate organizations; assistance in filling out applications for permanent residency or naturalization; and help in obtaining work authorizations and affidavits of support.
5) Youth Development
- AAANY's Teen Grant-Making Initiative matches the funds that high-school students raise on their own for left-wing nonprofit organizations that “serv[e] a major need of the community.”
- The “Brooklynat” project trains young Arab-American women in New York City to become “outspoken advocates for the issues that matter to them.”