THERE are roughly 11.5 million undocumented immigrants in the US today, and 1.5 million of those are Asian Americans.
In California alone, at least 40,000 of the half a million undocumented immigrants in the state are eligible for beneficial programs like Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), implemented in 2012, which allows immigrants, who came to the States before age 16 and also meet other requirements, to temporarily live and work legally in the US.
The low enrollment rates of immigrants within the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community who are eligible for beneficial immigration programs are alarming to lawmakers and community leaders, who are pushing for more folks to come forth and apply.
“Many in our communities risked everything to leave their home countries for better opportunities for themselves and their families. DACA is an opportunity for those who are eligible to come forward and start a process that will help them achieve peace of mind, so that they can access resources for higher education, gain protection under labor laws at the jobs they work hard at every day, and so much more,” said Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif), who represents California’s 27th district.
“It is imperative that those who are eligible come forward to apply so that we can put faces to the numbers, stories to narrate the needs of our communities, and voices to a growing chorus for greater change to a broken immigration system.”
Several AAPI community organizations like the Korean Immigrant Workers Center (KIWA), Korean Resource Center, Pilipino Workers Center (PWC), and Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles joined together in a media briefing at the Joan Palevsky Center at the California Community Foundation to talk about the importance of DACA and how eligible individuals have many resources available to assist them.
“We are making an investment in our immigrant communities, because we believe that that’s the future of LA,” said Efrain Escobedo, Vice President of Civic Engagement and Public Policy at the California Community Foundation (CCF). “The Foundation has invested one million dollars in grants that have gone out to 10 different community organizations, including AAPI organizations, to start the process of educating immigrants with the programs that can benefit them.”
“We established a task-force to try and find ways to get together, create partnerships, and have support from different offices with this outreach, and not just giving out money as an investment,” Escobedo continued. “This is not just a relief program. This is about investing, educating, and empowering.”
At the event, Rep. Chu urged eligible immigrants to come forward, citing the figures as cold facts.
Chu emphasized that AAPIs account for 10 percent of all undocumented immigrants, as well as over 40 percent of Dreamers in the University of California system. “We should have about 8 percent of APIs enrolled in the current DACA program. But only 2.6 percent have actually enrolled—so, we have a job to do.”
Chu also brought up the preliminary injunction issued by Texas district court Judge Andrew Hanen, which blocks President Obama’s executive order expanding DACA and provisions for the eligible parents of US citizens or legal permanent residents–an act which can benefit up to 5 million people.
The current DACA program has already benefited as many as 800,000 immigrants who are living, working, and thriving in the States.
“I want to tell all of you: this [injunction] is truly temporary,” Chu strongly said. “We believe that the President’s action is on solid ground, and we have just joined 181 members of Congress to send an amicus brief to the court of appeals for this circuit to support the executive order. And I fully expect that this injunction will be overturned.”
“In the meantime, we must work to educate the AAPI community, and dispel any fear or confusion surrounding the DACA program, and get ready for the expansion of the program and the forthcoming DAPA program.”
Aman Thind, immigration project director for Asian Americans Advancing Justice, added, “The more people who apply, the more likely the program will remain available for years to come. There is strength in numbers.”
“Mayor Garcetti is in full support of the implementation of DACA and DAPA,” commented Joseph Bernardo, a representative from the Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office of immigrant affairs. “We just filed an amicus brief with different cities and counties around the nation showing our full support of implementation. The city of LA could serve as a model for the nation to implement [these programs] to better serve our immigrations. We are still the leading city and region, in terms of immigrant immigration and infrastructure—but we definitely need the resources.”
Community organizations like PWC, the Korean Resource Center, KIWA, and Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles all offer multilingual resources, workshops, and trainings to help educate and inform eligible immigrants about applying for DACA.
“Many times people know about DACA, but feel it is too risky to come out,” said KIWA Executive Director Alexandra Suh. “In many ethnic communities, families are bearing the burden of being undocumented alone and in secret, and in order to change that, we need to come together.”
“We have seen and experienced the low numbers of eligible youth in our community applying for DACA. Part of the reason for the low numbers is on misinformation, financial challenges, and general fear,” commented Aquilina Soriano, Executive Director of PWC. “As we move forward with the existing DACA program and its expansion, it is really important how we get the messages out, to shift the dialogue and environment of fear, and build stronger, empowered communities.”
Soriano also emphasized that eligible immigrants don’t need to spend thousands to get application assistance. PWC offers lending circle programs to help them spread out the program fees over 10 months, with zero interest and fees, and can apply as soon as they are ready, with more financial assistance. Organizations like PWC offer communal support and empowerment to those seeking it. Sweeping immigration programs, she said, are “a momentum that we are continuously building.”
“When I think about the potential of our undocumented students, I think of people like Jose Antonio Vargas. Despite the challenges he faced, he went on to becoming a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist, and a leading advocate for DREAM Act students across this nation,” Chu said. “He is what the potential of the DACA program can represent.”
“There is nothing to fear, and everything to gain in signing up for this program.”
(LA Weekend April 11-14, 2015 Sec. A pg.1)