ASIAN American media crowded the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles on Wednesday, Jan. 27, where the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (WHIAAPI) hosted an informational session for various members of the AAPI community. It was an event to bring together to discuss programs that affect the diverse AAPI population in the Southwest region.
The initiative, housed under the Department of Education and reinstated by President Barack Obama in 2009, works to improve the quality of life for AAPI communities nationwide through accelerated access to and participation in federal programs.
“The goal of the initiative is to create open communication between the public Asian American and Pacific Islander community and the federal agencies that serve them,” said Danny Pasquil, co-chair of the WHIAAPI regional network, at the start of the event. “We are continuously working to create a better relationship.”
Representatives from various government agencies–including the FBI, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the US Department of Labor, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Social Security Administration, and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)–were present at the event to speak about the programs, benefits, and services they offer.
Special agent Amir Ehsaei gave a presentation on FBI, which he stressed is both a “law enforcement and intelligence agency.” With offices worldwide and an increased annual budget of $8.3 billion ($20 million allotted to the branch in Los Angeles), the FBI addresses threats to US society, including counterterrorism, cyberattacks, firearms, etc. The FBI is also committed to a diverse presence and relationship with America’s many ethnicities, reaching out to communities through seminars and mentorship programs.
“The Philippines is an area we’re responsible for here in Los Angeles, so engagement with the Filipino community is important. We have a presence in the Philippines that has strengthened, thanks to continued dialog, face-to-face meetings with the community, listening and explaining with the people,” Ehsaei said.
“The Bureau is like a family, and it’s important that we maintain these tight-knit relationships, acknowledge the barrier of trust,” said Lori Nelson, a Filipina special supervisory agent for the FBI branch in Los Angeles.
US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a branch of the Department of Homeland Security, focuses on field operations regarding the US’ legal immigration system and services benefiting immigrants in the US. Field operations Associate Director Daniel Renaud and District Director Susan Curda spoke to communities in hopes of better outreach, to “demystify” naturalization, and the USCIS’ plans to build new, multilingual programs to help people understand the process.
“[USCIS] making a great effort to reach a number of API communities, especially the growing Filipino population here in California,” said Curda. “We want to speak to these communities in their own language so that there’s no confusion, and we can take away some of the mystery and fear in the process. We don’t want it to be fear holding people back from getting naturalized. We want to talk to people about how to trust us as an agency.”
USCIS is holding a Tagalog-language information session on Monday, Feb. 1 at the National City Public Library, and Wednesday, Feb. 3 at the Carson Community Center, for Filipinos interested in learning about the process of citizenship.
Kimchi Bui, district director of the US Department of Labor (DOL) Wage and Hour Division, came forward to speak about the DOL’s efforts to enhance the welfare of the nation’s large workforce, reaching out to vulnerable, low-wage workers and enforcing federal labor laws to the billions of private and public businesses in the US. With multilingual regional and area offices, the stressed partnerships with AAPI organizations and national consulates.
Bui also talked about the EMPLEO program, first launched in fall 2015, with the DOL and Pilipino Workers Center (PWC).
“We saw the need that we need to have a workers’ program for different Asian American communities,” she said. A new call-center housed by multilingual staff at PWC will serve as a hotline for employees to call in about labor issues, discrimination in the workplace, and other wage issues, and is a resource for employers to ask questions about US labor laws.
“We are hoping that the program can get expanded to include other ethnic communities as well,” Bui said. “The DOL is here to help campaign for workers, employers, and we keep information confidential. We want compliance for both employees and employers; we are there to investigate labor cases.”
SSA / IRS
Essie Landry from the Social Security Administration talked about the benefits social security has on AAPI citizens. “59 million people can benefit from social security, as well as Supplemental Security Income (SSI),” Landry shared. “We want the community to know that they will not be disadvantaged in any way. Call our national toll-free number and ask for an interpreter; check out our easy-access portal and resources [such as W-2 forms, electronic wage reporting, verification services] online. We want them to be actively engaged in how we can service you.”
Stakeholder Liaison Lisa Hamilton also talked about the importance of the IRS–which handles income and refundable tax credits to those who qualify, among other services–in helping America’s taxpayers.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is a federal agency committed to fighting against discrimination, and for justice and equality in the workplace. “We enforce laws including the Equal Pay Act, which includes Title VII–protecting workers from discrimination due to race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, age, genetics, or sexual orientation,” said Christine Park-Gonzalez, a representative for the EEOC.
The EEOC also helped to settle the 2012 case against Delano Regional Medical Center, where solely Filipino caregivers were harassed through a language policy. The case was resolved for $975,000 for a three-year consent decree, including new policies and procedures for hiring.
Last May, the WHIAAPI hosted the first-ever White House Summit on AAPIs, featuring special guests including prominent entertainment personalities, artists and activists, as well as the first Asian-American US Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy. The summit served as a symbol of the unity within the diverse AAPI community and its government leaders.
“As the WHIAAPI co-chair, it’s a great opportunity, and something I couldn’t turn down,” Pasquil, a Fil-Am who is also the district director of the DOL Wage & Hour Division’s West Covina office, told the Asian Journal. “The Southwest Regional Network has grown tremendously to include federal employees and different agencies, and we’re bringing people from different backgrounds, areas, and levels together.”