LOS ANGELES (Jan. 31, 2013) — The Asian Pacific American Legal Center, a member of the Asian American Center for Advancing Justice, is pleased with this week’s announcements by President Barack Obama and a bipartisan group of senators known as the “Gang of 8” proclaiming that immigration reform is a national policy priority.
The commitment of our nation’s leadership to fixing the broken U.S. immigration system is heartening for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) – a community that is approximately 60 percent immigrant and the fastest growing racial group in the United States. Approximately 73 percent of Asian American voters cast their ballots for President Obama in the November 2012 election.
As immigration reform moves forward in the months ahead, APALC urges President Obama and Congress to stand up for effective, inclusive, and forward-looking immigration reform policies that will reunify and strengthen families, provide fairness and due process for all immigrants, and promote a vibrant economy and truly integrated society.
“We call on President Obama and Congress to exercise their leadership in passing immigration legislation that will honor the valuable contributions and sacrifices of immigrants throughout our nation,” said Stewart Kwoh, president and executive director for APALC. “The broken immigration system will be fixed successfully only through policies that are predicated on equality, due process, and inclusion, and that reflect and integrate the full mosaic of immigrant communities in the United States.”
In their proposed frameworks on immigration reform, both President Obama and the Senate “Gang of 8” highlighted two issues that are of great importance to the AAPI community: i) reduction of the visa backlogs that cause family members to be separated for as long as two decades; and ii) a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants who live, work, and contribute to the United States.
Nearly half of the 4.3 million family members waiting abroad in family backlogs are from Asian countries. The top five countries with the highest number of individuals waiting abroad include four Asian countries: the Philippines (462,145), India (332,846), Vietnam (267,281), and China (240,637). A 2010 Los Angeles Times/USC/APALC poll found that 82 percent of Asian Americans supported efforts to reduce the immigration backlogs.
Marichris Arce from the Philippines knows firsthand the impact of the family preference system. She was separated from her parents and younger siblings for six years while she waited for her visa to be processed. She later married and lived an ocean away from her husband for seven years for the same reason. Due to the difficulty in obtaining a visa and the family preference system, Marichris’ husband missed the birth of their first child and only saw his daughter for six weeks each year for the first four years of the child’s life.
“I am grateful to the United States for all that it has provided me and my family. However, the many years of being separated from my loved ones were very difficult to endure. I hope that in the future this system can be changed to allow families to be together. I don’t want anyone else to have to go through what I went through,” said Marichris, who is now a naturalized U.S. citizen.
In addition, President Obama’s family unity framework includes gay and lesbians in binational relationships, who currently cannot immigrate their partner to the U.S. Many AAPI community members are in same-sex binational relationships and currently lack the ability to legally immigrate their partners to the U.S.
There are also approximately 1.3 million undocumented Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States, many from the same countries with the longest visa processing backlogs. They live in constant fear of punitive immigration enforcement measures and the risk of deportation, often bearing the burden and heartbreak of long years of family separation. According to the National Asian American Survey, 58 percent of Asian Americans support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in the United States, an increase from 32 percent in 2008.
“While the implementation of deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA) helped DREAMers like me, my loved ones remain in the shadows,” said Anthony Ng, Asian American DREAMer activist and policy advocate with APALC. “It is time for President Obama and Congress to pass immigration reform for all of our families. We will not rest until all of us are recognized and legalized with an inclusive, humane, and clear pathway to citizenship that will take no longer than five years.”
Rather than require undocumented immigrants to wait “at the back of the line” as was proposed by both the President and group of senators, APALC respectfully urges the Obama Administration and Congress to simultaneously reduce the visa backlogs and establish an inclusive, fair, and direct path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants at the same time. This parallel approach is critical to end the suffering of families who are separated and to enable aspiring citizens to fully contribute their myriad talents and skills to U.S. society in a reasonable and fair timeframe.
APALC looks forward to working with the Obama Administration and members of Congress to ensure the passage of immigration reform that also ends unjust detentions and deportations of immigrants and refugees; guarantees judicial discretion, fairness, and due process in immigration hearings and the detention system; establishes full labor and workplace rights and protections for all workers regardless of immigration status; restricts and limits the use of flawed electronic employment verification systems; and fully integrates immigrants and refugees into the fabric of U.S. society, including strengthening U.S. competitiveness by expanding legal channels for workers to come to the U.S. with full labor and immigration protections.
Given that the President and members of Congress have expressed their commitment to fixing the broken immigration system this year, it is appropriate and fair that those families who currently face the threat and hardship of separation due to detention and deportation be included in immigration reform. APALC respectfully calls for an immediate suspension of deportations of immigrants and refugees pending the outcome of the federal legislative process.
For undocumented Asian American youth interested in connecting to other AAPI DREAMers or to get involved and learn more about APALC’s efforts on immigration reform, contact APALC policy advocate Anthony Ng at [email protected].