By Jocelyn Chui
Northwest Asian Weekly
The Asian Pacific American (APA) community will benefit from the comprehensive immigration reform address given by President Barack Obama last week, APA advocacy groups have said.
On July 1, Obama addressed issues of the nation’s immigration system, saying the “system is broken” and that we will need bipartisan support from the Congress “to shape a system that reflects our values as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.”
“I believe we can put politics aside and finally have an immigration system that’s accountable. I believe we can appeal not to people’s fears but to their hopes, to their highest ideals, because that’s who we are as Americans,” Obama said.
Pramila Jayapal, Diane Narasaki, and Bettie Luke — executive directors of OneAmerica, the Asian Counseling and Referral Service, and the Organization of Chinese Americans, respectively — thought the president’s speech was significant to the APA community.
“I think it is really important for the president to address the need of immigration reform in front of the whole country,” Jayapal said.
“I think a lot of communities of color have been waiting for President Obama to make immigration a priority topic,” Luke said.
The president said the immigration reform should focus on three key issues — reuniting families, providing opportunities for children of undocumented parents to earn an education and stay in the country where they have been raised, and encouraging firms to hire workers legally, putting a stop to the inflow of illegal immigrants.
“The DREAM Act would do this, and that’s why I supported this bill as a state legislator and as a U.S. senator — and why I continue to support it as president,” Obama said.
Narasaki said that Asians are disproportionately affected by the visa backlogs of the current system.
“There are over 4 million family members in the visa backlogs waiting to rejoin their families in the U.S. Over half of them are Asian. There are youth in our community who languish in limbo due to the lack of legal status, unable to use their college education and skills because of our broken system,” said Narasaki. “They would benefit from the reform.”
The president also acknowledged the existence of a large population — 11 million — of illegal immigrants in the country who work hard in low-wage sectors of the economy, seeking a better life. He acknowledged the contribution that these illegal workers have made to America’s economy, but he stressed that it is only fair for them to get in line like any other immigration applicant.
“No matter how decent they are, no matter their reasons, the 11 million who broke these laws should be held accountable,” Obama said.
Narasaki said that at least one million of the estimated 11 to 12 million undocumented immigrants are Asian.
“Following whatever process is legislated by Congress, qualifying members of our community, like other eligible undocumented immigrants, would be able to come out of the shadows and seek legal status,” Narasaki said.
“Stopping illegal immigration must go hand in hand with reforming our creaky system of legal immigration,” Obama said.
The president said that people living in the country illegally, as well as employers that hire and exploit illegal workers, have a responsibility to follow the law.
“Being a citizen of this country comes not only with rights but also with certain fundamental responsibilities. We can create a pathway for legal status that is fair, reflective of our values, and works.”
Luke said, “It is interesting that there is overt effort to prevent possible illegal entry of Asians, but what about possible illegal entry of white Canadians? What about visa-overstays of Irish and Canadians?”
Joint efforts from political parties are crucial to the success of the reform.
“It is a shame that Republicans in Congress seem determined to undermine immigration reform on basis of political party power — instead of based on what is best for the county and what is morally right. They seem to forget that their past Republican president also supported immigration reform and the DREAM Act,” Luke said.
Narasaki said, “Our community members, whether they are Republicans, Democrats, or Independents, must make it clear to Congress that comprehensive immigration reform is a key priority to our community and we want them to pass it this year.”
Though the majority of the online community seems to disagree with Obama’s speech, Jayapal said, according to the polling, 70 percent of the people believe that we need a solution to the immigration problem.
“I believe we have the support of the majority of Americans, really believing that the immigration reform is absolutely good for the country,” Jayapal said. “It will add $1.5 trillion dollars in the next 10 years. Money will start to flow in once you take away the horrible suppression and fear that exists right now.”
OneAmerica is a nonprofit organization formed directly after September 11, 2001, in response to the hate crimes and discrimination targeting Arabs, Muslims, and South Asians. Called Hate Free Zone at the time, the organization has now grown into a leading force for immigrant, civil, and human rights of particular communities.
The Asian Counseling and Referral Service is the largest nationally recognized nonprofit organization that serves all the different Asian Pacific American communities — immigrants, refugees, and American-born — in the Pacific Northwest.
The Organization of Chinese Americans is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the social, political, and economic well-being of all Asian Pacific Americans. ♦
Jocelyn Chui can be reach at email@example.com.