Immigration reform is not just an issue that affects the Latino community — it affects all immigrant communities. It should be noted that undocumented Asian-American (quite a broad category) students are emerging as leaders in the movement to pass the DREAM Act. And in California, a substantive population of Asian-Pacific Islander American students benefit from AB-540, the instate-tuition bill.
This interview sheds some light on immigration issues confronting Asian American communities that we would like to highlight. It is with Karen Narasaki, President and Executive Director of the Asian American Justice Center who also notes the activism of Asian-American students around the DREAM Act.
Q. Whats the situation with undocumented Asians? We never hear about them. The most recent statistics I found from a March 2006 a report estimated the number of undocumented Asians living in the United States in 2005 was about 1.5 million â€œ 14 percent of the 10.5 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, and 12 percent of the Asian population. At the time it was estimated that of the 1.5 million 23 percent were Chinese, followed by Filipinos (17%), Indians (14%), and Koreans (11%).
What’s been reported largely has been just the issue of the undocumented and therefore people are under the false impression that most illegal immigrants choose to come in undocumented.
People misunderstand how hard it gets to get in the U.S., people believe [illegal immigrants] have a choice to come in legally but don’t.
For Asians, a majority came on a student or tourist visa, or temporary employment visa and overstayed so they don’t think of themselves of as illegal immigrants because they came with documents and a lot of them are caught in the burueacracy to adjust their status.
Because it is a very different kind of immigration on some levels it does make it difficult. For example, the fact that someone’s undocumented tends to be a secret moreso than in the Latino community where, for instance, many undocumented immigrants come from same family or village. And thats one of the reasons why its harder to organize the Asian community â€œ I think there is more of a stigma in the Asian community about being undocumented.
Asian kids sometimes don’t even know because their parents never even told them! We saw that a lot when advocacy began on the Dream Act.
Again that was seen largely as a “Latino issue” but we found out it was an issue in the Asian community but it wasn’t well known â€œ kids didn’t discover it until they were going to college.
For instance, theres a wide preconception that there arent many undocumented in the Chinese community but that’s probably higher than any other. If I got to talk to a Chinese group about immigration and ask who knows someone who is undocumented almost no one will raise their hand but them after I talk, people will come up to me individually and say, “I have an auntie” or “an uncle,” but they would never publicly admit that.
And the reasons for that vary â€œ for instance, some refugees are undocumented but the numbers are lower so when you talk to Vietnamese and Cambodian immigrants about the issues, there can be less sympathy because they largely came here legally and don’t understand [the challenges].
Read the whole interview here.