By JOHANNA HESTER
In my role as president of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, I can’t help but notice the ever-growing assault on immigrants across the country and ramifications for our nation’s future.
In the past few years, several states have adopted discriminatory, anti-immigrant laws that allow racial profiling and give local law enforcement officers carte blanche authority to stop people based on the way they look or talk.
Bright, young immigrants are being denied the opportunity to have an economic future filled with prosperity and security, because a Republican-dominated Congress repeatedly refuses to pass bipartisan legislation.
These policies (or lack thereof) underscore a lack of understanding and respect for the immigrant experience — one that touches the heart of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community.
AAPIs are overwhelmingly immigrant, with about 70 percent having been born outside the U.S. For AAPIs, immigration isn’t just a national and political issue, it’s a family issue that hits home based on the experiences of parents, grandparents, and friends. Between 2008 and 2009, 90 percent of AAPIs came to the U.S. under family-sponsored immigration preferences. And as a community, we sponsor a third of all family-based immigrants.
Recent Census data also shows that AAPIs are a population that cannot be ignored. As the fastest growing racial minority in the U.S., we possess an increasingly influential voice and position to make a real impact in this presidential election—one that will determine our children’s future for generations.
We know what our country needs: a fair immigration system that respects our nation’s diversity, keeps our families together, and grows our economy. Immigrant-owned small businesses are a major driving force behind urban revitalization and job growth, and AAPI family businesses employ nearly 3 million people.
That’s why, for AAPIs, President Barack Obama is the clear choice on November 6.
President Obama understands the importance of diversity to our economic growth and success. Since day one, President Obama has remained committed to strengthening immigrant communities, keeping families together, and fixing our broken immigration system through smart investments and common sense reforms. When faced with an uncooperative Republican party, President Obama’s administration created rules and policies to reunite families, increase opportunities and preserve the American dream.
Even when Congress failed to pass the DREAM Act, which would have provided educational opportunities for undocumented youth and a path toward citizenship, President Obama implemented a policy of “deferred action.” This new policy provides young, aspiring citizens who have lived the majority of their lives in the U.S. a chance to break away from a life of fear and have access to opportunities to contribute to their communities and our economy — whether through education, military service or other promising avenues. Thanks to President Obama’s leadership, over 82,000 aspiring citizens, including many AAPIs, have applied for this new policy and have a brighter future.
President Obama has also pushed to allow undocumented spouses and children of U.S. citizens to stay in the country while they go through the immigration process.
Governor Mitt Romney, on the other hand, has made it clear that he does not value the significant contributions that immigrant communities like AAPIs make to our nation. He rejects any paths to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, including fair and common sense approaches like the DREAM Act. Instead, he supports a policy of “self-deportation”— make life so difficult for undocumented immigrants that they will have no choice but to leave. Furthermore, he supports state laws that condone racial profiling and other discriminatory practices against immigrants—calling Arizona’s harmful SB 1070 a “model” for other states. SB 1070 was later struck down in part by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Governor Romney’s plans run directly counter to the foundations and values our country was built on, a country of immigrants.
Come November 6, AAPIs not only have a decision to make about who our next President will be, but also the power to decide the role that immigrants will play in our nation’s future. AAPIs will have the ability to vote for a future of inclusion, shared responsibility and fairness.
This article is the second in a series focusing on President Obama and Governor Romney’s starkly different visions and prospects for America’s future. The third installment will focus on the presidential candidates’ education positions, policies and potential impact on AAPIs.
Johanna Puno Hester is President of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA), the nation’s first and only national organization of Asian Pacific American union members to advance worker, immigrant and civil rights. She is a strong labor activist and also serves as Director of Organizing and Field Services of UDW, The Homecare Providers’ Union of AFSCME Local 3930 based in San Diego, Calif.