Washington D.C. – As the full U.S. Senate is poised to begin the process to debate the immigration bill, S. 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act, hundreds Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) families from 20 states rallied on the East Lawn of the Capitol calling on Congress to pass immigration reform legislation that is as inclusive of many families as possible. Their demands included the preservation of the sibling and adult children visa categories, a clear and affordable path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and putting an end to harsh enforcement policies that tear families apart.
Joining AAPI immigrant families were Reps. Judy Chu (CA) Jan Schakowsky (IL), natives from Hawaii and Alaska who announced their “First Americans for New Americans” campaign for comprehensive immigration reform, Eliseo Medina, Secretary-Treasurer of Service Employees International Union and Wade Henderson, President and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. Impacted community members shared their experiences highlighting why immigration reform must pass this year.
Randy Kim traveled to Washington DC on a bus from Chicago, IL. His family came to the U.S. as refugees from the Vietnam War and the Cambodian genocide in the early 1980s. He spoke to the crowd about the story of his father and the strength his siblings gave each other during wartime and when they resettled in the U.S.
“When the Cambodian Killing Field era began, my dad and uncle escaped to Thailand and migrated to the U.S.,” said Randy. “They eventually sponsored my Uncle Sean and with their help he was able to settle and become a hardworking citizen. However, when Uncle Sean tried to sponsor their remaining siblings, they never made it. This was after 20 years of wasted money, endless run around and no answer.” On earlier legislative visits, Randy told legislators that siblings are an integral part of the American family and when families stay together, everyone prospers.
Anthony Ng, an undocumented immigrant youth leader from Southern California, has been an active leader and advocate. He came to the U.S. with his parents from the Philippines. In 2011, he graduated from the University of California-Irvine, and now hopes to earn a joint degree in Law and a master’s in Urban Planning.
“It was in the 10th grade when I found out about my undocumented status. I didn’t know what it meant and what to feel at the moment,” Anthony said. “My parents worked long tireless hours to prove that they made the right choice for our family to move to the U.S. I never doubted their decision. I am proud of them.”
Yosub Jung, also an undocumented youth from Southern California, shared his family’s struggles as undocumented immigrants. They fell out of status despite numerous efforts to obtain a green card. Yosub recently graduated top of his class at UC Berkeley and will begin his PhD studies at Harvard Business School in the fall.
“There were times when having no papers stopped my studies. There were times when I could not take necessary classes,” he told the crowd. “However, my parents taught and motivated me that all dreams can be reached if I study hard and stay true to myself. I want to use my degree to steer our nation towards smart economic growth. A roadmap to citizenship will give me and millions of other young people the chance to contribute our talents to the vitality of America.”
Lundy Khoy, born in a Thai refugee camp to Cambodian parents, resettled in the U.S. with her family when she was a year old. She was raised in California and northern Virginia, and is currently fighting her deportation as a result of unjust laws that mandate the deportation of noncitizens, even for minor crimes. She was detained for nine months while ICE sought her removal to Cambodia, a country she has never stepped foot in.
“Because of one mistake I made as a teenager, I may be separated from my family for the rest of my life. I am not a threat to society – I am a daughter, a sister, a student, a college admissions counselor and an American,” said Lundy. She came to the rally because she wanted others to know that the deportation policies need to change.
Prior to the rally, families and advocates held meetings with offices of 37 members of Congress and delivered packets to all 100 members in the Senate, including Dear Congress letters from families from 27 states. [Dear Congress letters can be viewed and downloaded here – http://bit.ly/17iCh3q]
Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders (AA & NHPI) are the fastest growing racial group in the United States. The community has expanded beyond the major cities with burgeoning communities throughout the U.S. In polls taken during the 2012 Presidential elections, 72% of Asian American voters said they support passage of comprehensive immigration reform legislation.
Stand With Families: National AAPI Day of Action is co-sponsored by the Asian American Justice Center; Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, AFL-CIO; Asian Pacific American Legal Center; Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement; Korean American Resource & Cultural Center; Korean Resource Center; National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum; National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development; National Korean American Service & Education Consortium; and the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center. More information is available at www.standwithfamilies.org.
QUOTES FROM COMMUNITY LEADERS
“Family immigration is a top priority for the Asian American and Pacific Islander community and a cornerstone of our current immigration system. While we were disappointed to see the family categories of married adult children and brothers and sisters put on the chopping block, we want to thank our champions in Congress for their efforts to strengthen the family system. Today’s events are a great demonstration of AAPIs standing up for our families and ensuring that our priorities are reflected in the legislative processes currently underway in the House and the Senate.”
Mee Moua, President and Executive Director of Asian American Justice Center
“Our message is clear, America needs united immigrant families for a stronger economy. Real comprehensive immigration reform is about family unity. Legislation should not narrowly define, discriminate or exclude family members from reunification whether they are a sibling or same-sex partner. We will not stand idly by as fathers, mothers and children are detained or deported as immigration reform draws closer. We will not be silenced while family reunification is being used as a bargaining chip in exchange for big business where working Americans are displaced and immigrant workers are exploited by employers seeking to cut costs.”
Gregory Cendana, Executive Director of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, AFL-CIO
“Asian Americans understand the discrimination, pain, and hardships that result from a broken immigration system. Asians were not allowed to become citizens until the early 1950s and were largely precluded from immigrating to the U.S. until 1965 due to restrictionist national origins quotas. Since then, family immigration has been the primary way that Asian American families have settled down roots and integrated into U.S. society. We will continue to mobilize to ensure that the path to family reunification remains open and does not exclude our brothers, sisters, and adult married children; that LGBTQ families are able to be with their loved ones; and that the path to citizenship is direct and inclusive.”
Stewart Kwoh, President and Executive Director, Asian Pacific American Legal Center
“We are honored to support comprehensive immigration reform that creates a pathway to citizenship and one that values family unity. As one of the first peoples of this great land that has had to work to be recognized, we know what is possible when an entire community is no longer in the shadows. The goals of immigration reform match our way, our Native values, to foster and care for others.”
Robin Puanani Danner, President and Chief Executive Officer of Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement
“No one should be forced to choose between the country they call home and the families left in another country. Family unity should be a key foundation of our immigration laws, in the same way that it is a key foundation of our society itself. We urge Congress to ensure that the final immigration legislation reunites families, eliminates unconscionable family-based backlogs, preserves diversity, ends discrimination against gay and lesbian couples, and ensures adequate numbers of visas in all categories.”
Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
“This marks another historical moment as the Asian American and Pacific Islander community speaks out on our needs for immigration reform. It is critical that immigration policy reform keeps all families together, including the options to sponsor our siblings and adult children, and keeping our LGBT families together. As Congress moves forward with immigration reform, NAPAWF will remain engaged with policy makers and continue to mobilize to ensure that the final bill keeps all families together, protects the health and well-being of AAPI women, and provides a just process for attaining citizenship. Stand with our families, our stories have the power to make change.”
Miriam Yeung, Executive Director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum
“The Senate CIR bill is an important step forward to fix the broken immigration system and we applaud the Senators for their hard work. We also welcome the establishment of a new road map to citizenship for the 11 millions aspiring citizens. However, the road is difficult, costly and restrictive. The DREAM provision is a very positive step. We also applaud that spouses and children of legal permanent residents would be considered as immediate family members. However, the current Senate bill is a radical departure from the historic 1965 immigration law that allowed for immigration based on family ties. The current Senate bill will eliminate and limit the rights of U.S. citizens to sponsor siblings and married older children. Separated family members will be competing for points based on job skills, education attainment and family ties. Strong families help build a strong economy.”
Dae Joong (DJ) Yoon, Executive Director of National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC)
“The unprecedented votes in November may have propelled immigration reform to the national stage, but it is the momentum of the growing consensus of Americans that will deliver a commonsense immigration law. The call for a real solution to our dysfunctional immigration system can be heard across the country from Latinos and Asian Americans to small businesses to preachers and pastors. We won’t be silent. We will take action today, tomorrow… until we mark 2013 the year Congress passed true immigration reform with a roadmap to citizenship.”
Eliseo Medina, International Secretary-Treasurer of SEIU
With the Senate debate quickly approaching on immigration legislation, we will continue to raise our voices on issues affecting AAPI families: creating a pathway to legalization, uniting with loved ones, preserving the rights of all workers, and ending harsh enforcement policies.”
Deepa Iyer, Executive Director of South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) and Chair of the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA).
“The voices of Southeast Asian American families that are being broken apart by deportation need to be heard in the current immigration reform debate. Deportation laws lead to racial profiling, unjust detentions, and cruel deportations. The laws do not treat people as individuals, and they operate without concern for American families — tearing mothers and fathers away from their U.S. citizen children and sons and daughters from their elderly parents and from the only country they have ever called home: America. That is why we are gathering in the nation’s capital to call on Congress to work with us to keep families together and end unjust deportation.”
Dour Thor, Executive Director of the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center