Where Do Asian Americans Stand on Immigration Reform?

Seventy-seven percent of Asian Americans polled voted for President Obama. (Photo: Flickr/keithpr)

Last Tuesday, U.S. Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) along with five other members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus met with White House officials who assured the contingent that the Obama administration is moving forward with immigration reform.

“We talked about what the president wants and what his vision is,” Gutierrez told BuzzFeed. “And I gotta tell you, we’re in a good place.”

It’s interesting that no one from the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus was invited to this meeting. Then again, this shouldn’t be a surprise. Most people see immigration as a “Latino issue” and there are more Latino votes to be had than Asian votes. Nonetheless, 2012 witnessed the rise of a small but no less important electorate which helped re-elect President Obama and many other officials.

Yesterday, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) released detailed findings from its exit poll of Asian American voters in the November 2012 election. Unlike most exit polls, the AALDEF survey was conducted in various Asian languages, capturing responses that would have been missed by English-only polls.

Contrary to pre-2012 thinking, Asian Americans are not that conservative. Fifty-seven percent of those polled said they were Democrats and only 14 percent identified as Republicans. Seventy-seven percent voted for President Obama and only 21 percent supported Governor Romney.

But where do they stand on immigration? When the 9,000 plus Asian American voters were asked if they supported comprehensive reform which includes a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants, 65 percent said ‘yes.’ Only 14 percent said they opposed such a measure. Seventy-three percent of Democrats and fifty-three percent of Republicans said they support a path to citizenship.

Just like Latinos, Asian Americans have family members, friends and neighbors who are without papers. It is estimated that 11 percent of all unauthorized people in the United States are Asian. A majority of Asians are first generation immigrants who are greatly affected by the inadequacies of our immigration system. Asian immigrants are among those who wait the longest – up to two decades – to be reunited with their loved ones because of immigration backlogs. Highly educated and skilled Asian immigrants can wait up to six years before earning a green card.

While the president has vowed to push for comprehensive immigration reform this year and Republicans are starting to line up behind Senator Marco Rubio’s (R-FL) copycat immigration reform plan, there are those who vehemently oppose any measures beyond unnecessary and inordinate enforcement. Pro-immigration forces need to rally to ensure that legislation which includes a path to citizenship is passed once and for all. This includes Asian Americans who have proven themselves indispensable to any political victory.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds and the Huffington Post.

Community-Based Organizations Helped Deliver Asian American Vote


November 8, 2012; Source: Bloomberg

In the week since Election Day, much has been made of how the Latino vote helped deliver another term to President Barack Obama, and rightfully so. Asian American groups, however, want to make sure that we also know that the Asian vote, while not as large, was also crucial on November 6th.

Less than 24 hours after the President Obama won reelection, the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development (National CAPACD) and the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) released a statement touting the fact that, while only four in ten Asian American voters identify as Democrats, they “broke for Barack Obama by a huge margin, with 72% voting for the President and 26% for Mitt Romney.” In congressional races, seven in ten Asian American voters also backed Democratic candidates.

Lisa Hasegawa, National CAPACD’s executive director, believes that the Romney campaign and the Republican Party lost valuable votes by ignoring Asian Americans. “Mitt Romney had room to win the overlooked Asian American community,” said Hasegawa. “While Barack Obama’s narrative attracted Asian American voters, Mitt Romney missed an enormous opportunity to offer a direct appeal to this group.” Hasegawa also acknowledges the pivotal role of community-based organizations in mobilizing Asian Americans. “Community organizations’ efforts are especially critical in getting Asian Americans to the polls when traditional party vehicles ignore this demographic,” she said. “National CAPACD supported 25 groups in 14 states over the election season to help educate Asian American and Pacific Islander voters and get them to the polls on Election Day.”

Another group that energized the diverse Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities was the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC) and its local Cambodian, Hmong, Lao and Vietnamese community-based affiliates. These immigrant-serving nonprofits focused on voter outreach and education in areas with high concentrations of Southeast Asian American eligible voters. According to a statement released by SEARAC Executive Director Doua Thor, “Because of the high numbers of Cambodian, Lao, Hmong, and Vietnamese in areas like the Central Valley of California and the Twin Cities in Minnesota, our communities had a real potential to impact the vote in these parts.”

KAYA Filipino Americans for Progress, a tech-savvy grassroots organization founded in 2008 to support then-Sen. Obama’s first presidential run, was likewise key in mobilizing the second largest AAPI group in California and in the “swing states” of Nevada and Virginia. As the United States transforms into a majority minority nation, it would be folly for any political party to ignore communities of color and the organizations that serve and mobilize them.

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire, November 13, 2012.

Nonprofits Encouraging Asian Americans to Flex Political Muscle

Several analysts have noted that the political participation of Asian Americans in Nevada, North Carolina and other key battleground states that have seen dramatic increases in their Asian populations may well be pivotal this election cycle. Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC) President and Executive Director Stewart Kwoh points out, in a report on Asian American voting in the 2008 general election in California’s Los Angeles County, that Asian Americans are “often overlooked in deliberations over swing states and swing votes. Yet the face of America is changing in part because of us…Challenging that invisibility requires us to change. It requires us to become more politically engaged.” Kwoh, whose stint as board chair for The California Endowment made him one of the first Asian Americans to be board chair of a large U.S. foundation, hopes to see more “voter engagement efforts to strategically target those least engaged in our communities, moving them toward becoming more active participants in the political process.”

Among those rallying Asian Americans to flex their political muscle next month is KAYA: Filipino Americans for Progress, which recently released a get-out-the-vote PSA. The spot, featuring Filipino American celebrities, encourages voter registration and awareness in the Filipino-American community, the second largest Asian group in the U.S. You can see it here:

“We need to make sure that our rapid population growth translates into increased electoral participation,” KAYA National Co-Chair Genevieve Jopanda told the Asian Journal. “Voter registration and voter turnout is the only way to ensure that the right leaders who make decisions about our livelihood, safety, and the future of our community get elected into office.”

As Asian Americans find their collective voice, both political parties ought to take heed. The Asian vote may be the small margin that wins the race.

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire, October 15, 2012.

Survey Reveals Asians Are a Voting Bloc that Cannot Be Ignored

By not reaching out to Asian Americans, parties risk alienating the fastest growing demographic. (Photo: Flickr/subtle_devices)

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) are the nation’s fastest growing racial group, growing by as much as 46 percent during the first decade of this century. According to Karthick Ramakrishnan, Director of the National Asian American Survey (NAAS), AAPIs are an important and growing political constituency. While only 5.6 percent of the U.S. population is of Asian descent, six hundred thousand new AAPI voters participated in the elections for the first time in 2008 and a similar number is expected to do so this year.

AAPI organizations have been heavily mobilizing the community, urging people to register and vote. The Asian vote could very well determine the outcome in battleground states where there are large concentrations of AAPIs. In fact, one in six Asian Americans lives in a battleground state.

NAAS has released a report on the 2012 elections which includes a number of findings which can prove invaluable to both Democrats and Republicans, not just in this election cycle but moving forward as the AAPI community jockeys for its place in American society and politics.

Earlier this week, the Wilson Center’s Asia Program hosted a panel which discussed the 2012 National Survey of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Although NAAS is an academic and nonpartisan effort to poll the opinions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders on a wide range of issues, Ramakrishnan anticipated that many in the audience were interested in learning how the AAPI community will vote in November.

Among U.S. citizens in this group, 45 percent can be described as “likely voters.” Filipino Americans, the second largest AAPI group, and Japanese Americans are the most likely to vote among AAPIs. 43 percent of Asian American likely voters support Barack Obama while 24 percent support Mitt Romney. There are some considerable differences by ethnic group however: Indian Americans, the third largest group, show the strongest support for the president (68 percent) while Filipinos show the strongest support for Gov. Romney (38 percent).

It is crucial to point out that nearly a third of likely AAPI voters remain undecided. In contrast, recent surveys reveal that roughly 7 percent of the general population is undecided. Moreover, a little more than half of Asian Americans consider themselves independent or non-partisan.

Mee Moua, president of the Asian American Justice Center (AAJC), warned both parties that they have been ignoring the Asian American community at their peril. She distributed an AAJC handout showing that over the past couple of years neither Democrats nor Republicans have seriously reached out to AAPI registered voters. Only 23 percent of registered Asian Democrats and 17 percent of registered Asian Republicans were contacted. Although the community shows greater support for Mr. Obama and leans Democratic, they “have the potential to be the margin of victory” for either party Moua stressed. If the Democratic Party fails to convince undecided and independent AAPIs, then the GOP has an opportunity to win more votes for Mr. Romney and other Republican candidates.

Ramakrishnan, when asked what might explain President Obama’s and the Democratic Party’s better standing among AAPIs, said that it has a lot to do with perception – which party appears more welcoming and inclusive. The Republican convention for instance hammered the message that America is a Christian nation. Only four in ten Asians are Christian. The rest are Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs or those unaffiliated with any religion.

Voters, regardless of their race or ethnicity, will support candidates they can identify with and who they believe understand their concerns. Asian Americans still feel invisible and ignored, but they are ready to take their seat at the table. Both parties better get to know AAPIs fast and vie for Asian American votes just as they do for other communities of color.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, September 28, 2012.