By Jennie L. Ilustre
Immigration, including the fate of some 750,000 Dreamers who entered the U.S. as undocumented children or minors, the healthcare law, voting rights, the midterm elections in November, and the 2020 Census top this year’s concerns among Asian Pacific Americans (APAs), according to major advocacy leaders.
“These are Mainstream issues as well, because they affect all Americans,” remarked Jon Melegrito, civil rights advocate and former communications director of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA).
The most recent issue involves some 750,000 of the 1.8 million undocumented who applied for the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) under President Obama. Obama declared them “practically Americans,” noting they were raised and educated in the U.S. Under the DACA executive action, recipients were granted work permits and relief from deportation. Advocates noted they have been contributing to the economy as workers and entrepreneurs. Some joined the military.
In September last year, President Trump rescinded DACA, urging Congress to pass legislation instead. DACA officially ends on March 5 this year, affecting 750,000 Dreamers – unless Congress passes The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors or DREAM Act. The bipartisan bill was introduced last year by Senator Lindsey Graham (R, South Carolina) and Senator Dick Durbin (D, Illinois).
During negotiations in January to pass the nation’s Fiscal Year 2018 budget, Democrats insisted on a guarantee from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to open debate and allow a vote on the Dreamer’s bill. But McConnell refused to do so. Republicans accused the Democrats of protecting illegal immigrants to the detriment of American troops, among others.
The impasse led to a government shutdown on January 21. On January 23, the Democrats blinked without getting a formal and specific guarantee, instead accepting McConnell’s word regarding the Dreamer’s bill. They joined Republicans in voting for another Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government working until February 8. Political observers are not optimistic about the outcome. Reason: Both parties are hardening on their positions.
In an interview with Fox News on January 23, Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said: “Well, we’ve got to keep messaging and do the math for the voters because I think the Democrats have been very dishonest, saying, ‘Oh, Republicans have the Senate and the House and the White House.’ The reality is, as you know, Brian, it takes 60 votes in the Senate to get this budget passed. We only have 51 Republican Senators.”
The day after his January 20, 2017 inauguration, President Trump, told the media he would like to solve the DACA problem “with heart,” promptly raising an outcry from Republican immigration hardliners and voters. Recently, he acknowledged the hardworking and talented Dreamers in outlining the immigration legislation he wants from Congress.
On January 25, President Trump said he was willing to give the 1.8 million undocumented who entered the country as children a path to citizenship in 10 to 12 years provided: 1) the Democrats in Congress agree to a $25-billion border wall with Mexico, and increased border security measures and law enforcement; 2) limiting “chain immigration,” the conservatives’ term for family-based visa, to spouses and children; and 3) ending the 50,000 visa lottery for underrepresented countries.
Asked to comment on President Trump’s conditions, Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA) Executive Director Alvina Yeh said on January 27: “The Trump Administration has made it clear that it does not care about immigrants and refugee families. Its most recent proposal is not a serious attempt to fix our broken immigration system. Rather, it is an extremist wish list touting a white supremacist, anti-worker agenda.”
She added: “DREAMers should not be used as political bargaining chips, yet the Administration is offering a pathway to citizenship in exchange for significantly gutting family-based immigration, eliminating diversity visas, and strengthening border security, which is nothing but a waste of taxpayer dollars. Trump’s aim is to divide and pit our communities against each other, but we know better. An attack on one is an attack on all. APALA continues to work in partnership with unions, community allies, and other coalitions to put pressure on Congress to do the right thing and pass a DREAM Act and permanent legislative solutions for Temporary Protected Status recipients.”
Democratic lawmakers promptly rebuffed Trump’s conditions. Republican hardliners opposed what they denounced as “amnesty” for people who break the nation’s law. But top Republican leaders in Congress appreciated knowing the president’s positions on immigration ahead of the next negotiations this February.
Top APA Priorities
Below are the 2018 top priorities of the Advancing Justice-Asian American Justice Center (AAJC), as enumerated by Executive Director John C. Yang.
- Family-based immigration
“The administration and certain Congressional members are trying to reduce family-based immigration by holding it hostage or using it as a bargaining chip in the battle to give DREAMers a path to citizenship,” said Executive Director John C. Yang. “In recent years, 80 percent of Asian immigrants to this country have done so through family visa categories. Cuts to family-based immigration would have a dramatic negative effect on Asian American families.”
- The 2020 Census
Yang pointed out that the U.S. Census provides the most accurate count of all communities of color, so it is essential to make sure Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are not dismissed or rendered invisible. The 2010 Census showed Asian Americans were the fastest growing ethnic community. “An inaccurate count will result in Asian Americans not getting the resources that they need,” Yang stressed.
He added: “The Census is facing a number of hurdles toward the goal of getting a fair and accurate count of all people in the U.S. From lack of leadership to the potential of appointing unqualified candidates or the lack of necessary funding and a new announcement that the U.S. Census Bureau is planning to remove race and ethnicity check boxes on its 2018 End-to-End testing, the Census needs real stewardship to get back on track.”
- The November Mid-year Elections
As the fastest-growing population in the U.S., Yang said that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders can play a significant role in the outcome of elections this year. Remarked Yang: “Voter suppression tactics at the state level, the administration’s attempts to diminish people from communities of color from voting, and another year without the full voting protections under the Voting Rights Act are all activities that run counter to AAPIs’ ability to fully exercise their right to vote.”
Top 2018 APA Issues
Melegrito has been active in Asian Pacific American advocacy for decades. As an individual voter and working with APA organizations, he has joined causes with the Asian American community. Among these are comprehensive immigration reform, DACA, labor rights, voter education, and the Filipino and Filipino American World War II veterans’ benefits and the Congressional Medal. The top 2018 issues as seen by Melegrito follow.
“Among other things, the Trump administration wants to limit the family reunification visa and replace it with merit-based visa,” said Melegrito, who lamented the move.
- Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)
“I am concerned about what concessions Democrats would make to President Trump and the GOP if Dreamers are somehow given permanent relief through legislation,” said Melegrito, referring to the Grand Old Party or the Republican Party. “The DREAM Act should not only give them permanent protection, but also provide a path to U.S. citizenship.”
“Of course, I’m hoping Congress will pass this bill, a measure that even President Trump himself should support given his earlier statements about protecting young people who were brought here at a young age without legal status. Aside from humanitarian reasons, the economic benefits for the country are equally tremendous, by giving these young people the opportunity to serve. While I’m skeptical of the GOP-led Congress, given its past record on this matter, I hope wisdom and common sense will prevail.”
- Voting Rights
Melegrito had expressed concern that the Trump Commission on Voter Fraud, which was established in May 2017, “may lead to more restrictions on voting rights, voter suppression, and barriers to voting among minorities.” On January 4 this year, President Trump disbanded the Commission on voter fraud. The Washington Post reported it was dissolved amid infighting, lawsuits and refusal to cooperate by state officials.
- Health Care
“The GOP tax plan has done away with individual mandates, further destabilizing health care,” said Melegrito. The Trump administration continues to undermine the Affordable Care Act, with adverse impact on minorities.”
- Mid-term elections in November
The elections will include seats in the U.S. Congress, state, city and local levels. Melegrito urged Asian Pacific Americans to get actively engaged “in getting women and minorities elected on all levels, from state to federal.”