The Value of Family Visas

In the 1960s, my uncle settled down in Neshoba County, Mississippi, a very distant and vastly different place from our native Philippines, where he became the physician of Blacks, Choctaws, and the few Whites who came to trust the “Chinaman.” As soon as he was able, he applied for visas for his siblings and parents. In the mid-seventies, my grandparents, titas (aunts), and tito (uncle) came to the U.S. They provided much comfort to their eldest brother who was finally able to speak in Ilonggo again and enjoy dishes he had not tasted in years. My titas and tito eventually found their own way to Chicago and California where they thrived in their professions and started their own families. My lola (grandmother) became the trusted caregiver of my cousins, traveling whenever and wherever she was needed.

If some lawmakers have their way however, immigrants, under immigration reform, would no longer be able to sponsor their siblings, just their spouses and children. Under our current immigration system, a good majority of legal immigrants arrive with family visas and only a fraction come with employment visas. Republicans want it the other way around, arguing that replacing family visas with employment visas for high-skilled workers would strengthen our economy.

These politicians need to realize however that pamilya is very important to Filipinos and other Asian Americans, our fastest growing racial/ethnic group, just as it is to Latino Americans, our largest community of color. Do Democrats want to lose the strong support of these communities? Do Republicans want to continue alienating them? And, if the idea is to attract the world’s best and brightest, do lawmakers really believe that these desirable immigrants will come knowing that they will not be able to send for their sisters and brothers?

We also need to remember that immigrants who arrive with family visas eventually contribute to our economy as producers, consumers, and taxpayers. They not only produce as wage earners and entrepreneurs, but as unpaid labor as well. An Urban Institute report I wrote outlines how unpaid work, especially caregiving and household production, adds to our overall productivity. Take my lola for example. By babysitting her grandchildren and tending house, she saved my titas and titos a considerable sum and freed them to go out and work. Multiply that by the number of other grandparents, aunties, and uncles who help out when they get here and you have a strong economic argument for family visas.

Deepa Iyer, executive director of South Asian Americans Leading Together, told the Washington Post that extended family members are the “people you need to build a support network. We’re talking about a U.S. citizen where the sister has a small business and wants to sponsor her brother who has the technical skills to help run that business. The fallacy is that folks think of immediate relatives not contributing to the economy. That’s not true.”

Moreover, members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus argue that “eliminating these categories would produce only a small reduction in visas while creating greater hardship for thousands of U.S. citizens and their loved ones.”

Perhaps politicians who want to cut the number of family visas should take pause and think about the implications, not just for immigrants, but for our shared prosperity and progress.

Ford, Kellogg, and Kresge Pledge $1M to Asian American Pacific Islander Communities

April 13, 2012; Source: The Asian Journal

The Ford, W.K. Kellogg, and Kresge foundations pledged $1 million to support Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities at a recent White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders briefing. The convening had over 200 participants, including philanthropic leaders from more than 50 foundations.

“This effort is historic in that it is the first time the White House is bringing together foundation leaders, federal officials and community experts to discuss the needs of this often-overlooked group,” said Chris Lu, co-chair of the initiative and assistant to the president. “We must work together to make sure that no community is invisible to its government.”

The AAPI community is the fastest growing racial group in the United States, increasing by 46 percent over the last decade. According to the U.S. Census, the Asian American community includes individuals of Cambodian, Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Japanese, Korean, Malaysian, Pakistani, Thai, Vietnamese, and other Asian descent. It also includes those who are Hawaiian, Guamese, Samoan and other Pacific Islanders.

Elected officials and policy makers, along with the general public, are generally ignorant of the unique needs and concerns of this diverse group. This is due to their combined small number compared to Latinos and African Americans; their lack of representation at the highest levels of government, commerce industry, and philanthropy; and the myth of the “model minority”—the idea that all Asians are healthy, wealthy and wise.

But not all Asians are so fortunate. Close to 13 percent of AAPIs live below poverty. The stats are worst among Southeast Asians: 38 percent of Hmongs, 29 percent of Cambodians, and 17 percent of Vietnamese live below poverty. Second, AAPIs suffer certain health conditions worse than other Americans. Cervical cancer incidence rates are among the highest in the country for Laotian, Samoan, Vietnamese, and Cambodian women. Over half of Americans chronically infected with Hepatitis B are AAPIs. Third, not all AAPI children and youth do well in our schools. Nearly a quarter of AAPI students are “limited English proficient.” The dropout rate among Southeast Asians is mind-blowing: 40 percent of Hmong, 38 percent of Laotian, and 35 percent of Cambodian youth do not complete high school.

The White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders hopes that partnerships among government agencies, community-based organizations, and foundations would uplift the AAPI community.

Ford Foundation President Luis Ubiñas said that the $1 million committed by the foundations will “support follow up program planning for some of the outstanding ideas that emerged from the White House event that will improve the quality of life of AAPI communities.” Among these ideas are building community capacity; improving language access; tackling significant disparities among Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders and Southeast Asian Americans; and combating discrimination, bullying, and harassment of South Asian and Muslim communities.

This effort only scratches the surface. As Kresge Foundation President Rip Rapson observed, this “momentous conversation between federal and philanthropic leaders addressing the critical needs of the AAPI community marks the beginning of what we hope is a long and productive partnership.”

W.K. Kellogg Foundation Vice President for Program Strategy Dr. Gail Christopher also underscored that addressing the challenges faced by the AAPI community “will require both philanthropic and governmental organizations to evaluate their strategic plans to ensure that the critical needs of these marginalized communities are addressed.”

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire, April 16, 2012.

Asian Groups Condemn Marion Barry’s Statements Regarding Asian Businesses

Washington, D.C. area and national Asian American groups have put out a letter regarding the comments made by DC Council member Barry Tuesday.

Organizations Condemn Councilmember Marion Barry’s Statements Regarding Asian Businesses

April 5, 2011

As members of local and national organizations committed to advancing and protecting the rights of individuals of Asian and Pacific Islander descent in the United States, the undersigned organizations condemn District of Columbia Councilmember Marion Barry’s recent remarks regarding Asian-owned businesses at a campaign event in Washington, DC. On April 3, at his Ward 8 primary election victory party, Councilmember Barry made the following statement, “We got to do something about these Asians coming in and opening up businesses and dirty shops … They ought to go. I’m going to say that right now.” Given Councilmember Barry’s previous commitment to civil rights, we are particularly disappointed by these comments. While Councilmember Barry has recently indicated that he was “sorry for offending the Asian community,” we call upon him to provide a sincere apology and ensure meaningful engagement with our communities to improve the well-being of all individuals in the District.

Councilmember Barry’s statement is of serious concern because it undermines the notion that developing the District of Columbia’s economy and neighborhoods is in the interest of all communities, regardless of national origin or ethnic background. Numerous institutions, from small businesses to non-profit organizations, as well as individuals, provide vital services and job opportunities, contribute their tax dollars, and engage in civic and political life within the city. Within the District of Columbia, according to 2007 data, Asians own 5.9% of businesses, joining other communities in strengthening the economy. Rather than acknowledging and appreciating the contributions that Asian businesses, alongside other racial and ethnic communities, have made to the city, Councilmember Barry’s remarks appear to fan the flames of racial divisions and imply that Asian Americans are not invested in developing a robust economy that benefits all residents.

Our organizations are also extremely concerned that remarks such as these can perpetuate stereotypes of Asians taking jobs away from other Americans, which can fuel racism and animosity towards community members. In fact, individuals of Asian descent are frequently blamed for the economic woes that this country has faced when perceptions are fostered that our community is thriving in this economy at the expense of other minority communities with whom we work and live alongside.

In light of these concerns, we call upon Councilmember Barry to provide a meaningful apology and officially retract his statement; refrain from engaging in harmful rhetoric regarding Asian and other immigrant communities; and develop meaningful relationships with our communities in the District of Columbia to understand the contributions and challenges of community members. Our organizations also view this as a prime opportunity to work with Mayor Vincent Gray and Councilmembers on the “One City, One Future” initiative. We look forward to proactively identifying next steps that we can take together to continue to create more diverse and growing economy for all residents.

Local Endorsing Organizations
Asian American LEAD (AALEAD)
Asian Pacific American Bar Association of the Greater Washington DC Area Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance – DC Chapter (APALA-DC)
Asian Pacific American Legal Resource Center (APALRC)
Dana Tai Soon Burgess & Co
DC Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Caucus
Korean American Drycleaners Association
Korean American Grocers Association of Greater Washington DC (KAGRO-DC)
Many Languages One Voice
National Organization of Vietnamese American Leaders of Greater Washington DC
Network of South Asian Professionals (NetSAP DC)
South Asian American Bar Association – DC (SABA-DC)
Washington Area Liquor Retailers Association (WALRA)

National Endorsing Organizations
Asian American Action Fund
Asian American Justice Center, Member of Asian American Center for Advancing Justice
Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies (APAICS)
Asian Pacific Islander American Health Forum (APIAHF)
Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA)
Council of Korean Americans
Japanese American Citizens League (JACL)
National Korean American Service and Education Consortium (NAKASEC) National Asian Pacific American Center on Aging (NAPCA)
National Asian Pacific American Families Against Substance Abuse (NAPAFASA)
National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF)
National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development (National CAPACD)
Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF)
South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)
Southeast Asia Action Resource Center (SEARAC)

Chinatown Community Center Embroiled in Political Campaign?

August 4, 2011; Source: The Bay Citizen | Ed Lee, Interim Mayor of San Francisco and the first Chinese-American to hold the post, has said for months that he would not run for mayor this November. But after an intense grassroots campaign with alleged ties to a Chinatown community-based development organization, Lee is expected to heed the slogan emblazoned on the t-shirts of volunteers  – “Run Ed Run” – and announce his campaign this week. This will leapfrog him into frontrunner status, ahead of other candidates who were counting on him not to run.

This has put an unwelcome spotlight on the Chinatown Community Development Center (CCDC), a low-income housing nonprofit that receives millions of dollars in city funding and has a long-standing relationship with Lee. As a charitable entity, CCDC risks losing its tax-exempt status if it is found to be engaging in political activity on behalf of the politician. CCDC has an annual budget of about $6 million, a third of which comes from the city.

Gordon Chin, CCDC’s executive director, defended his organization saying he and other executives have not instructed staff members, tenants and members of its youth program to support Lee or any other candidate. In an interview, Chin insisted that “We know the fine line between being in issue advocacy and electoral politics.” He added that the “Run Ed Run” campaign reflects ethnic pride and more importantly, is part of the broader political awakening among Chinese residents, who make up 21 percent of San Francisco’s population.

The problem is, Chin is one of four leaders of the political campaign and a longtime ally of Rose Pak, the head of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce who was instrumental in Lee’s appointment as interim mayor in January and has publicly encouraged him to run for a full term. Moreover, another CCDC executive, David Ho, the center’s political director, is also a strategist in the effort to get Lee to run for mayor. Ho is likewise tied to Pak, as her political protege and heir apparent.

The center’s political director, David Ho, is also working as a strategist on the effort to draft Lee. Ho, 33, is a political protégé of Pak, frequently driving her to meetings and events and meeting with supervisors over drinks to deliver her messages. Some observers predict that Ho, a savvy community organizer, will succeed Pak as the pre-eminent leader of Chinatown politics.

As for specific complaints, the Modesto Bee article only alludes to them by saying that there are critics.

Like many community-based development organizations, CCDC has a long history of activism, including organizing tenant protests against landlords in the 1970s and 1980s and a series of large-scale campaigns in support of major housing bond initiative in the 1990s and 2000s. It is the nature of such nonprofits to advocate on behalf of their constituencies which tend to be low-income minority populations. Such activities are no doubt vital to a democracy that truly heeds all voices. However, these entities and their leaders need to be vigilant lest they be perceived as colluding with politicians. This may not only cost them their tax-exempt status; it may very well work against the individuals and families they are fighting for.

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire, August 4, 2011.

Asian American Labor Group Decries Wage Theft

July 29, 2011; Source: People’s World | The Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA) recently held its eleventh biennial convening of workers, labor organizers, community allies, elected officials and young leaders in Oakland, Ca. The convention highlighted the problem of wage theft by inviting workers to share their stories.

Eun Yan, who used to work in a Chinese restaurant said, “We had no minimum wage, no overtime, no breaks, no benefits.” She described her job as “difficult, dirty work,” with long hours and constant abuse from managers.

Yan stressed that “this doesn’t just happen to Chinese restaurant workers” and that the abuse is “widespread among all groups, and also affects domestic and construction workers. It hurts families, consumers and overall economic development.”

Che Wong also shared his experience with poor and abusive labor conditions. He had come to the U.S. with limited English proficiency and worked for a construction firm whose many projects were publicly funded. He was injured on the job but the company’s owner told him not to report the incident, promising to pay all of Wong’s expenses. He was fired three weeks later and subsequently learned that the company had cheated its largely immigrant workforce of most of its wages.

The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that more than 11 million unauthorized immigrants live in the United States. Their undocumented status makes them easy targets for bad recruiters and employers who count on the immigrants’ fear of disclosure. By coming out with tales of abuse, immigrants are helping themselves, and shedding light on the problem. Advocacy groups, like APALA, and other nonprofits advance the cause of these hard-working people by making sure their stories can be heard.

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire, July 31, 2011.