Friday, May 9, 2014

Making Heritage Month Matter for Undocumented APA Immigrants

From Chinese for Affirmative Action:

This May marks another celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. During this month of celebration and reflection, it is a timely moment to re-commit ourselves to addressing the current struggles facing undocumented Asian American immigrants. Looking back, APA heritage has always been shaped by our experience as immigrants and as workers fighting against unfair and difficult circumstances. Our nation’s earliest generations of Asian immigrants and workers were forced to struggle against anti-Asian and anti-immigrant laws. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the Immigration Act of 1924 are just two examples of racist laws that sought to restrict Asian immigrants and separate Asian families.

Today, anti-immigrant practices and policies may appear distinct from explicitly anti-Asian laws of the past, but they are dangerous and discriminatory nonetheless. In fact, the challenges facing Asian Pacific American immigrants, especially those who are undocumented, are growing and must be addressed with vigor that can come with knowing our history. 

At Chinese for Affirmative Action, every day we hear from low-income and limited-English proficient immigrants who offer a very different picture than what is offered by the mainstream portrait of Asian immigrants. 

In fact, of our country’s estimated 11.7 million unauthorized immigrants, approximately 1.3 million are from Asia with the largest number of undocumented Asians arriving from China, the Philippines, India, and Korea. Among immigrant youth often known as DREAMers--undocumented immigrants who were brought here as young children--1 in 10 are Asian American. The stories of these less visible immigrants need to better understood, and more resources must be made available to support them and their empowerment.

We have an obligation to change immigration and other public policy that is terrorizing families and denying fundamental human rights. No one should be forced to live in the shadows of society vulnerable to workplace exploitation, lacking access to critical health and safety services, and in constant fear of deportation proceedings that would separate them from their family members.

 And yet this is the situation created by today’s anti-immigrant practices: overzealous immigration enforcement, militarized border patrols, and unnecessary deportations of those who present no risk to our country’s security or safety. 

There is so much to celebrate during APA Heritage Month in May, but celebrations will ring hollow if we fail to learn from our history. If we are to honor and respect the cultural, economic, and political contributions all Asian Americans have made to this country, we must prioritize the needs of the undocumented and most vulnerable among us.

Our long history of resistance against oppression calls upon us to keep up the struggle for immigration reform in Congress, and action from the President to halt unnecessary deportations--especially this month.


Grace Lee
Policy Director


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