By Marissa Vichayapai
Special to Northwest Asian Weekly
Three years after the start of Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA), a federal program which provides certain undocumented immigrants protection from deportation, a social security number, a work permit, and other benefits, enrollment of eligible Asians and Pacific Islanders continue to be disproportionally low, while gaps in services and knowledge remain high.
After the release of data from the Migration Policy Institute in 2014 indicating a need among the undocumented API community, there has been a considerable amount of resources allocated to addressing this issue on the national level. States with a high population of undocumented APIs, such as California and New York, have quickly mobilized by increasing services and outreach efforts to the undocumented API community. From these efforts, the United States’ Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), has seen an increase of enrollment from APIs, particularly from South Korea, Philippines, India, and Pakistan. Since 2014, applicants from Korea, Philippines, India and Pakistan have seen a 57%, 11%, 39% and 42% growth rate, respectively. While there is growth, the actual number of submissions totaled to just over 1,000 applicants.
While there is some improvement in the number of APIs who have DACA, the overall trend of applicants remain disproportionate. Undocumented Chinese immigrants, one of the largest undocumented API ethnic groups in the U.S., and immigrants from Vietnam consistently do not appear on USCIS’ top 25 list of countries of origin that apply for the DACA program. In 2013, applicants from China, who are among the top three countries of birth with potentially eligible DACA recipients, has only had 5% of their total eligible population apply. Comparatively, Korea has had 35% of their eligible population apply.
Locally, trends in Washington State’s applicants are harder to measure. Latest figures from the Brookings Report (2013), indicate that APIs make up 4.6% of Washington State’s DACA applications. Recent findings from USC’s Professor Tom Wong show just how large this disparity actually is. According to Professor Wong’s (2014) findings, 23% or 5,416 of the DACA eligible community in Washington State is API—a much higher figure than what was originally estimated and shows a larger distinction. The latest data also indicates that Washington State’s undocumented API community comprises of individuals whose country of birth is India (25%), Korea (22%), China (18%), Philippines (13%), and Vietnam (9%). A larger percent of APIs (13%) are from other countries of origin.
Washington State has also seen an increase of services and outreach efforts to the undocumented API community. Fearless Asians for Immigration Reform (FAIR!), a campaign by 21 Progress launched in April 2015, has since provided training to over 100 services providers, with a potential reach of over 44,000 APIs in the community. Additionally, tabling and workshop events throughout the state have resulted in nearly 2,000 direct interactions with APIs or API-serving individuals.
While results of this added outreach and increased awareness among service providers and the API community have yet to be seen or measured using national data sets, some insights regarding enrollment and cultural shift can be made.
Through FAIR!’s outreach, training and consultation with community service providers and community leaders, FAIR! has assisted over 65 undocumented API identified individuals access information and immigration-related services. Over 10 DACA eligible youth are currently working on applications, while three are waiting for DACA approval. For the first time, undocumented APIs are able to identify a single organization who can provide direct service and connection to legal resources they desperately want and need.
While statistics are one portion of the picture, there is much information and insight to be gathered from working with such a historically hidden community. The following collection of observations are based on FAIR!’s recent work.
1. APIs who are undocumented have limited awareness of the DACA or the proposed Expanded DACA and DAPA program*.
Nearly 70% of individuals had never heard of the DACA program prior to interacting with a FAIR! community advocate or FAIR! trained individual.
When a DACA eligible youth and their parents learn about the program, their reaction is near disbelief and sometimes, even shock. I once received the phone number and name of a potentially DACA eligible youth from a community leader. I called him that same day, and after prescreening the youth for DACA and explaining the program, he went quiet for a while. I asked him, “What do you think? Are you interested in applying?” He responded with, “I’m sorry, I just can’t believe this. This is freaking amazing.”
On another occasion, after telling a mixed-status Chinese family about DACA’s history and its three year existence, the family was downright angry. For them, it was three years of lost work, income, and potential that was left untapped. Every person’s income is essential, and three years of lost work makes all the difference.
2. APIs are interested in applying for federal programs.
Nearly 92% of DACA eligible APIs are actively moving forward in their DACA applications, after learning about the temporary program. 65% of Expanded DACA or DAPA eligible APIs have opted to provide their personal information so that they stay connected with the FAIR! program and receive expedited services.
There is some hesitation when people learn that the program is temporary and there are questions about risk involved. However, this period is often short lived. Typically, eligible APIs start working on their DACA applications right away, and will schedule an appointment with Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP), which offers free weekly DACA legal clinics, within two weeks of learning about the program.
After screening applicants, I always ask them, “What do you think? Are you interested in applying?” The responses I receive generally indicate that people are tired of their current living conditions. The opportunity to make more money, avoid deportation, and access certain benefits far outweighs the risks—even if the opportunity is a temporary one.
3. APIs who are undocumented need increased support and culturally competent services.
55% of undocumented APIs were referred to FAIR! by a FAIR!-trained community leader, 28% by a FAIR! ad posted in an ethnic newspaper, and 6% by a FAIR!-trained community service provider.
Even though most of the undocumented APIs we’ve worked with have interacted with various systems to receive state benefits, many have come to the program through our direct work, indicating a possible lack of knowledge and support.
Increasing the community’s awareness and advocacy of the undocumented API population could add great potential in ensuring undocumented API people are receiving the right resources.
As the FAIR! campaign continues to do our work, we still need participation from API serving advocates, leaders, service providers and allies. The FAIR! campaign offers free trainings and consultations. Find out how you can get involved, join the movement and support the hard working undocumented APIs in our community by going to www.ItshouldBeFAIR.com can signing our pledge. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (206) 578-1255.
*Expanded DACA and DAPA, or Deferred Action for Parental Accountability, are two proposed federal programs that was scheduled to launch in February 2015. However, anti-immigrant judge from Texas who claims that DACA and DAPA are unconstitutional and a burden to their state filed a lawsuit. Decisions from that lawsuit are still pending. Expanded DACA and DAPA would allow approximately 4.9 million eligible undocumented immigrants temporary protection from deportation along with other similar benefits as the DACA program. (end)