WASHINGTON, D.C. (Jan. 13, 2015) — In last night’s State of the Union (SOTU) address, President Barack Obama made the case that government must do more to give everyone a “fair shot” to thrive in our society and economy, even as the gap between the very rich and the many poor continues to widen.
Education is key to economic opportunity, and we applaud the President’s plan to offer two free years of community college to all responsible students. This plan will create more opportunities for Southeast Asian American (SEAA) students, many of whom are first-generation college students or come from low-income families. Across SEAA communities, over half have never attended college, and 40 percent of our students continue to drop out of high school.
The President also noted that “democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn’t matter.” We urge schools, districts, and states to think critically on how to meaningfully engage our students and families who feel invisible within our public school systems, due to the lack of disaggregated data on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
We also celebrate the continued success of Obamacare in providing health insurance access for low-income and middle-class families, many of whom in the past risked financial ruin due to exorbitant medical bills. Our SEAA community health partners have shared powerful stories of Southeast Asian elders who had to move across states or wait 30 to 40 years before getting health care through Obamacare and Medicare. Finally, we appreciate the President’s commitment to medical research and tackling cancer, the leading cause of death among Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs). SEAA communities have the highest rates of cervical cancer in the country.
The President also confronted the precipitous rise of Islamophobia in this country. Our Muslim brothers and sisters, including those who also identify as SEAA, face racism, discrimination, intimidation, and the risk of violence on a daily basis. We agree with the President that this kind of climate of fear “betrays who we are as a country” and must be stopped.
Unfortunately, President Obama’s passing reference to “fixing our broken immigration system” rang hollow. Even as he spoke last night, his own administration continued to raid homes, schools, and workplaces to deport Central American families seeking asylum from the most dangerous countries in the world. As a community of refugees that has been torn apart by devastating deportation policies, we call on the President to provide protection, not deportation, to those who seek refuge.
The Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC) is a national organization that advances the interests of Cambodian, Laotian, and Vietnamese Americans by empowering communities through advocacy, leadership development, and capacity building to create a socially just and equitable society. Find out more at www.searac.org