By Jessica Kai Curry
Northwest Asian Weekly
After 23 years, Diane Narasaki will retire from her role as executive director of Asian Counseling and Referral Services (ACRS). The Northwest Asian Weekly had the opportunity recently to discuss with her the most pressing issues for Asians and Pacific Islanders (APIs), and all refugee and immigrant communities, as we head into the polls this November.
The majority of Narasaki’s concerns derive from the immigration policies of the current administration. She is concerned about threats to family-based immigration, women, and people with low incomes, inherent in pending legislation about public charge, the citizenship application fee waiver, and the Dream Act. She is also worried about a proposed change to the 2020 census.
“Family-based immigration is the cornerstone of our immigration system,” says Narasaki, yet the push appears to be towards reducing the ability of families and people with low incomes to come to the United States. This affects API immigrants because in many cases, they struggle reuniting families and living in economic hardship.
“Most of us need help when we enter a new situation in order to stabilize and become contributors,” Narasaki said. Having one’s family nearby, along with access to assistance programs, is vital to success.
Narasaki explains that public charge is as old as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, and has been used before against immigrants. The idea is one’s need for public services will be used as a factor to determine how much of a “burden” an immigrant will be on the U.S. economy. This in turn will determine whether or not a person is allowed to stay in the United States. It is a baffling idea when one considers how important immigrant contributions are to the U.S. economy; and that the same person’s tax dollars are helping to pay for the services that person might be utilizing.
“The administration is broadening [public charge] to include nutrition, housing, healthcare,” says Narasaki. “It will force many immigrants seeking to enter the U.S. or seeking green cards, if they have lower incomes, to choose between nutrition, health, and shelter for their families — or residency in the U.S. It is a cruel choice.” It is important to remember, Narasaki continues, that public charge is not retroactive, and that if you are eligible, you should continue to take advantage of those services to which you have a right. Narasaki said, “The public charge rule hasn’t changed yet. We must do everything we can to stop it…[People] should not be scared.”
Another pending policy, which has escaped notice somewhat, is the proposal to change the process of obtaining a citizenship application fee waiver to require income tax returns. This will devastate families, those with low incomes, and senior citizens — the latter two often do not have income tax returns as they fall below a certain income level and are not required to file.
“What we are seeing is efforts to undermine, curtail, or eliminate family-based immigration through legislation and administration policies,” comments Narasaki. “Rather than trying to reduce the number of immigrants and make it harder for people, we would like to see comprehensive immigration reform.”
DACA promised to give children of illegal immigrants legal status and a path to citizenship. It has been in the news frequently, but what hasn’t been mentioned often is how many API participants will be harmed if DACA is abolished.
Narasaki said there are over 1 million undocumented APIs in the United States, and in Washington state, 44,000.
“This directly affects our community. We need a clean Dream Act,” she says. Narasaki views threats to the Dream Act as a betrayal.
“They were told by the previous administration that if they came forward and applied and retained all the desirable characteristics, they would be able to stay here safely.” Now that DACA participants have registered, they are vulnerable to an administration that wishes to track and possibly remove them.
“Outside of the humanitarian consideration, what sense does it make to take young, educated people that are already here in the U.S., and deport them?” asks Narasaki. “They are already contributing.”
Another item which worries Narasaki is a proposal to add a question to the 2020 national census: “Are you a citizen?”
This question has never been asked before and, according to Narasaki, does not need to be asked. All that is required of the census is “a full and complete count” of the number of people living in this country. With this proposed change, people will be afraid to come forward and be counted, which will again disproportionately affect people of color, and ultimately the funding for important services that are funneled into our communities.
“This is extremely important and unknown to most of us,” warns Narasaki. “The census drives many critical decisions…it determines political representation, how much federal funding goes into healthcare, education, transportation (roads), public safety (police), etc. Businesses make plans that way…If the population is under-counted, the state will receive none of the above.”
The current administration’s initiatives are especially detrimental to women, and those living in areas hit hard by climate change.
“Many people waiting in the visa line to rejoin families are women,” notes Narasaki. “If the ability to enter the U.S. is based on education and money, they will be left out.” This is due to the fact that, in many countries, women do not have, or are not allowed to have, either. At the same time, climate change has disproportionately affected the API community because many API immigrants are “climate refugees” — fleeing island nations that have been swallowed by rising waters, and they are similarly disadvantaged financially.
In spite of her concerns, Narasaki is heartened by the activism she sees in the community.
“The exciting thing that is happening is growing recognition of civic engagement.”
Narasaki urges the community to vote in the upcoming election and to make public comment against the threatened changes while there is time.
“ACRS has joined with all of those who believe you shouldn’t have to be rich to come to this country or to become a resident,” she says “It’s unacceptable…it’s un-American.”
Narasaki was recently recognized by the Metropolitan King County Council for her devotion during her career to creating a better world for all communities of color.
Jessica Kai can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.