By Jennie L. Ilustre
Mee Moua, who became president and executive director of the Asian American Justice Center (AAJC) a year ago, is ready for the civil rights advocacy organization “to turn the page on a new chapter.”
“In a couple of months, we will operate under one brand name–Asian Americans Advancing Justice (Advancing Justice),” she elaborated in an email interview. “Though each of us will remain as separate and independent organizations, by our name change we will now become an affiliation of organizations.”
AAJC has a network of 125 community-based organizations in 29 states and the nation’s capital. Ms. Moua said the idea arose from the collective desire to take their missions to the next level. The goal: To strengthen the Asian American voice on civil rights, and pool together their minds and resources to better utilize their expertise in different issue areas.
“We are aiming for the whole to be greater, faster, stronger than the sum of our parts,” she stressed, noting she’s building on the achievements of past leaders and members. AAJC is formerly the National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium (NAPALC).
Remarked Ms. Moua: “I’m so very proud of being at the helm of an organization that already has an amazing track record in Asian American civil rights advocacy, whether it be in voting rights, census outreach, or diversity issues. I’m also honored to be part of a national network of Asian American civil rights affiliates.”
Founded in 1991, AAJC is known for its expertise on affirmative action, broadband and media diversity, census, voting rights, immigration, immigrant integration and immigrant rights. It accomplishes its goals through policy advocacy, litigation, public education and community-building.
Daphne Kwok, Chair of the White House Advisory Commission on Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) said the AAPI community is fortunate to have someone of Ms. Moua’s caliber among its national leaders.
“She is an effective, powerful and dynamic leader who has dedicated herself each and every day to improving the lives of all AAPIs,” she said in an email. “I’ve had the great honor of having worked alongside Mee throughout the years. What stands out is her leadership in training, seeding, and placing our next generation of AAPI leaders in the political, philanthropic, corporate, and non-profit arenas.”
As a former three-term Minnesota State Senator, Ms. Moua chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee. She had oversight responsibility for all state agencies in matters related to criminal, civil and administrative law and procedures. She started her legal career in private practice in Minnesota.
Born in Laos, Ms. Moua spent three years with her family living in the refugee camp in Thailand. She came to the U.S. in 1978. She attended Brown University as an undergraduate. She earned a master’s degree in public affairs from the University of Texas-Austin, and a law degree from the University of Minnesota.
After a stint as a state senator, Ms. Moua changed gears. She served as vice president of strategic impact initiatives for the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum (APIAHF), a national health justice organization with offices in San Francisco and the nation’s capital, where she was based. She managed its divisions on policy analysis, political advocacy, strategic communications, and research, evaluation and analysis. She transitioned to AAJC in March last year.
This year, AAJC is full-speed ahead on its “Reuniting Families for a Stronger America” campaign throughout the congressional session. Ms. Moua herself is married with three children. She is the oldest of four siblings. Family photos and her children’s art projects grace her AAJC office.
Ms. Moua stressed the provisions of the comprehensive immigration reform bill, filed on April 17 in the 113th US Congress, are inevitably interrelated. She pointed out: “Immigrant families spending inhumane, unreasonable amounts of time apart from their loved ones should not be lost in the discussions about DREAM, about pathways to citizenship, about employment-based visas and border protection.”
DREAM, the Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors, refers to the young minorities brought to this country without official documentation. Legislation that sought to grant them a pathway to citizenship failed in the past. But it is incorporated as a provision in the immigration reform bill filed last month.
“AAJC and its campaign will continue to work with all Members of Congress to ensure families are protected,” she said. “We must show Congress that the Asian American community is watching its every move as it relates to immigration, and we look forward to the passage of bill that reflects our values of family unity for all Americans.”
She is truly passionate about this cause because “immigration affects us all–we are a nation of immigrants.” Thousands attended the rally “to lift up our voices and be heard on the immigration reform. Family unity is the cornerstone of America’s immigration system, and we firmly believe that families strengthen our community, our economy, and our nation.”
“We were rallying to ensure that the nearly 2 million Asian family members awaiting reunification and the more than 1 million demanding citizenship were represented,” she stressed. “We were rallying to ensure that Asian Americans are part of the debate and policy-making process. We were rallying to make sure that Congress no longer keeps families apart for years, sometimes decades.”
She exuded optimism the final bill would fix the broken immigration system. She foresees legislation “which will provide a meaningful path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented, including a real and permanent solution for the DREAMERs.” She also believes there will be a meaningful effort to address both the family and employment backlogs.
But the fight for this bill’s passage has just begun, she noted. “While we are cautiously optimistic about the fixes to the legal immigration system to address the visa backlogs for families and workers, and also on a reasonable and real roadmap for the 11 million undocumented, we have some concerns about potential civil rights and due process implications in the enforcement provisions.”
In Her Own Words
AAJC President and Executive Director Moua temporarily lost her voice at the recent immigration rally, held at the West Lawn of the Capitol. Excerpts of the email interview follow.
You were an elected official. Why did you shift to nonprofit work?
When I got elected to the Minnesota State Senate, I was only 32 years old. After nearly a decade of serving the good people of Minnesota, I knew it was time to put my experience and skills to work in a different capacity–one that could help make meaningful solutions for the Asian American community nationwide. Today, as I work with our partners in the Asian American, Latino, African and Caribbean, and LGBT communities on immigration, I am confident that I made the right decision, and I’m honored to be doing this work.
Which is tougher: Campaigning or lobbying on issues?
Whether campaigning as a candidate or on an issue, we must be vigilant about raising our voices and sharing our values so that people can understand the important issue at hand, and feel motivated to speak out. We must be willing and able to work across party lines, build coalitions, and influence key stakeholders and leaders.
In both respects, we must always keep in mind the impact–the human element–of our actions. It takes the same level and caliber of organizing and political stamina in order to successfully campaign for public office or on an issue. Either way, we are organizing and campaigning as a small part of a much broader movement.
What would you like to be your legacy at AAJC?
Solidifying the legacy of AAJC as THE human and civil rights voice for the Asian American community.
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