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Asian American advocates continue fighting for immigration reform

Mary Tablante

AAPIs are gaining more visibility in the immigrant rights movement, and exit polls from the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund show that the majority of AAPIs support comprehensive immigration reform. Approximately 67 percent of Asian Americans polled in Virginia, New York and New Jersey supported immigration reform with a path to citizenship.

In recent months, Asian American and Pacific Islander immigration reform advocates made a huge push towards immigration reform with events that included an organized fast and a postcard drop on Capitol Hill.

Many AAPIs in the D.C. area and across the nation participated in daily or longer fasts for comprehensive immigration reform that ends deportations and reunites families in a month-long campaign called Fast for Families.

SOURCE: rns.com
Dae Joong Yoon, far right, executive director of the National Korean American Service & Education Consortium, speaks at the launch of the “Fast for Families: A call for immigration reform and citizenship” on Tuesday (Nov. 12). He and others will fast from food and drink until Congress passes comprehensive immigration reform. RNS photo by Katherine Burgess

Dae Joong Yoon, executive director of the National Korean American Education Consortium was one of the three core fasters. The Fast for Families tent was on the mall for one month, from November to December. Yoon, as well as advocates Eliseo Medina, Christian Avila and Lisa Sharon Harper, participated in a water-only fast for 22 days.

Prominent visitors to the Fast for Families tent included President Obama, Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.

Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Eliseo Medina, Dae Joong Yoon
SOURCE: AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama visit with individuals who are taking part in Fast for Families on the National Mall in Washington, Friday, November 29, 2013.

President Obama showed his commitment to making comprehensive immigration reform a reality when he made a speech specifically targeting Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. During his remarks at San Francisco’s Betty Ann Ong Chinese Recreation Center on Nov. 26, he encouraged the crowd that the majority of the nation supports comprehensive immigration reform.

“America is a place where you can make it if you try and that’s why it is long past time to reform an immigration system that right now doesn’t serve America as well as it should,” the president said in his speech. “We could be doing so much more to unleash our potential if we just fix this aspect of our system.”

The Senate passed a bipartisan immigration reform bill (SB 744) in June that would help grow the U.S. economy and create jobs, but the House delayed their vote on an immigration bill.

Members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus also fasted in solidarity during the Fast for Families campaign. The fasters included Congresswoman Judy Chu (D-Ca.), Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hi.), Congressman Mark Takano (D-Ca.) and Congressman Al Green (D-Tx).

Ben de Guzman, the director of programs for The National Queer Asian Pacific Islander American Alliance, participated in the fast and said his experience in the tent was spiritual.

“The tent was really inspiring. It kind of gave a spirit to the lens to the work that has always been there but really came forward in the fast,” he said. “It wasn’t a hunger strike; (it) really invoked the spiritualness of what it means to fast, what it means to go without. To me it was kind of a spiritual community and it lent a moral kind of lens to the arguments.”

Another event that pushed for immigration reform was an organized a postcard drop to deliver more than 5,000 postcards to the House and Senate in November. NQAPIA organized the campaign.

de Guzman said that people who identify as LGBT face unique challenges when it comes to comprehensive immigration reform. There are provisions around humane treatment of detainees that are particularly of interest to the LGBT community. For instance, some LGBT people are locked up in solitary confinement for security purposes.

“…They don’t know what else to do with them,” de Guzman continued. “It’s for their own security, but no one should be put in solitary confinement unless they are a real threat.”

There are transgendered people who have died in detention centers because they did not have access to hormonal treatment, he added.

NQAPIA also launched an Uncovering Our Stories multimedia campaign that shares the experiences of AAPIs who identify as LGBT. One undocumented person talked about his fear about being deported to Korea. He questioned whether he would be required to do the military service and would his being gay subject him to violence.

“We want to be able to keep our families together, both as Asian people whose family categories are being cut as well as LGBT people who have to do bureaucratic gymnastics to make sure our families are recognized,” he said. “The state doesn’t recognize our marriages often enough. We know what it means to have a broad definition of family.”

With these events and campaigns, AAPIs are becoming a bigger part of the spotlight compared with in the past when campaigns only targeted the Latino American communities.

“I have noticed the intention in making sure Asian Americans are part of the language and part of the discourse,” de Guzman said. “…I think our voices were heard more than ever before. I think it’s both because we’ve worked together as a community and the relationships we’ve built are finally bearing fruit.”

Many Asian American organizations and activists will continue to work together going into the new year.

“We’re going to continue to fight the fight,” de Guzman said. “We’ve never had enough resources to do everything we want to do, (but) we’ll continue to do what we can with what we’ve got. Heading into 2014, to push for legislation that really reflects our values is the most important thing for us … focusing on our communities, making sure they are the ones that put their own voices out there.”

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