Majority of Deported AAPI Are Not Criminals


Immigrant advocates have been very vocal about their displeasure at President Obama’s decision to delay executive action on immigration. “Where is the leadership and courage from President Obama?” asked Gregory Cendana, Chair of the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA), “Asian Americans are losing hope.”

Indeed, it is personal for many in the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community as undocumented family members remain at risk for deportation. About 11 percent of the country’s undocumented are AAPI, mainly from China, the Philippines, India, Korea and Vietnam.

The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), a data group at Syracuse University which gathers nonpartisan information about U.S. federal immigration enforcement, reports that immigration court judges have ordered 82,878 individuals deported so far this fiscal year. TRAC points out that only 20 percent of these people are being “removed” because of criminal or any other activity that posed a threat to national security or the public safety. This statistic only rubs salt in the collective wound of immigrants.

Nearly six percent of individuals ordered to leave their families and communities are AAPI (4,778). Immigrants from China (1,840), India (793), the Philippines (344), Vietnam (251), Nepal (198), and South Korea (189) make up 75 percent of AAPIs being deported. The entire AAPI community is represented, including  the island country of Niue (2), Bhutan (1), Brunei (1), and East Timor (1).

Until immigration reform passes and the deportation of non-criminal immigrants stops, AAPI advocates will continue their protest.

“If our elected leaders are serious about fixing our broken immigration system, they must back up their words with actions,” said Miriam Yeung, Executive Director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF). “We will  continue to mobilize our base and make our concerns and needs heard from all across the country to Washington, DC.”

Immigration: At the Intersection of Race and Sexual Orientation

Last month, I had to stop working because immigration authorities told me so. This week, I am cutting my vacation short because they want to “capture” my biometrics. But it’s all good. After 23 years dealing with our immigration system, it looks like I finally have a clear path to citizenship. Granted, an additional six years at least, but an end is nonetheless in sight. Now that my marriage is recognized by the federal government, my American husband has sponsored me for a green card. My immigration status changed, so I had to resign from my job. Our application is apparently moving along, so the United States Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS) wants to record my biometrics. The work permit, provisional green card, permanent green card, and finally, citizenship, should follow in good order within the next few years, barring any surprises.

I am one of the luckier ones. Many of “my people” – queer folks and Asians – are not as fortunate.

Most Americans think of immigration as a Latino issue. Many are beginning to learn, however, that it is also an Asian issue. About 9 percent of undocumented immigrants are from Asia. Family reunification stymied by backlogs is a major concern for Asian Americans.

Some Americans might think that immigration is no longer a gay issue since Americans and U.S. permanent residents can now sponsor their same-gender spouses. But immigration remains an LGBT issue. At least 267,000 undocumented LGBT adult immigrants live in the United States. A mere fraction are married to citizens or permanent residents. Individuals persecuted for their sexual orientation and gender identity flee their home countries to seek refuge in our country.

The National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA) recently released Uncovering Our Stories: The Voices of LGBT AAPI Immigrants, a campaign to help the public understand that immigration intersects ethnicity and sexual orientation. Linda Khoy, daughter of Cambodian refugees, relates how her family painfully learned the difference between being permanent residents and U.S. citizens when her sister was put into deportation proceedings. Urooj Arshad, a Pakistani immigrant, talks about the unique challenges faced by queer Muslims of color. Alex Ong, an Indonesian asylee, explains why he is unable to reunite with his parents who had been denied refuge in the U.S. I also tell my story and share why I care about immigration reform, even though I now have a way out of the deep immigration tunnel so many immigrants find themselves in.

Immigration is not one racial group’s issue. Neither is it a straight or queer issue. Immigration impacts all of us and it is an issue that desperately needs to be addressed.

Also on the Huffington Post.

Uncovering Our Stories: Erwin de Leon from Mia Nakano & Visibility Project on Vimeo.

Immigration Reform Stalls in the House

Immigration art

May 13, 2013; CBS News

One thing that’s certain after the House GOP meeting last Wednesday is that immigration reform isn’t going to happen anytime soon. Republican representatives convened to discuss how to proceed after the Senate passed its comprehensive immigration reform bill, which includes provisions for what Senator McCain described as “the most militarized border since the fall of the Berlin Wall,” stringent law enforcement measures, and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

House Republicans are well aware that their party mandarins want them to act in short order and produce immigration legislation, but they are not to be rushed. The priorities of national Republicans and representatives are simply different. Party leaders fear losing the Latino vote in 2016 and beyond, while House members fear losing the conservative White vote in upcoming primaries. (Very few House members have sizeable numbers of Latino voters to worry about. On average, only 10 percent of voters in Republican districts are Latino.)

Any steps taken will be after the August recess, and they will be small. The inclination is toward tackling immigration reform piecemeal, starting with border security, interior enforcement, visas for high-skilled workers, and an agricultural guest worker program. But a path to citizenship, a crucial component of any comprehensive immigration reform bill, is a non-starter for most House members, being tantamount to amnesty.

Some Republicans have suggested an alternative path that leads to “legalization,” not citizenship. But isn’t this just semantics? The Senate bill would legalize the status of undocumented immigrants and, after 13 years or so, allow them to naturalize. The House could pass a bill that “only” provides legal status, but under the current system, immigrants could eventually get green cards and in time, citizenship. The process might be tougher and longer, but it nonetheless ends the same…unless formerly undocumented immigrants are banned from ever becoming citizens.

In the meantime, others like House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte are open to providing a path to citizenship for one group of unauthorized immigrants: those who were brought into the country as children. Cantor and Goodlatte are drafting their own version of the DREAM Act, which passed in the House but failed in the Senate in December of 2010.

Immigration reform might still happen. But not any time soon, and not in a fashion as comprehensive as some of us would like.

Originially posted on Nonprofit Quarterly’s NPQ Newswire.

Senate Immigration Bill Summary

The U.S. Senate passed an immigration reform bill which has been characterized as historic. No doubt passing bipartisan legislation is nowadays, but we really should hold the balloons, confetti and champagne for actual passage of reform through the obstructionist House. That being said, it’s worth going over what the hefty Senate bill holds and Politico provides an excellent summary. Here are the highlights:

  • Border security and enforcement has to be super-sized before undocumented immigrants can get green cards. Provisions include doubling the number of Border Patrol agents and completing 700 miles of fencing along the border we share with Mexico, as well as requiring all employers to verify workers’ legal status electronically.
  • In the meantime, however, some of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants can gain legal status or “registered provisional immigrant status” six months after enactment of the bill. The eligible ones are those who arrive prior to Dec. 31, 2011, and never left since then; do not have felony convictions or multiple misdemeanors; and pay hefty fines and back taxes. Individuals who were brought to the country as children would be able to get green cards sooner.
  • More visas would be made available for highly educated and skilled foreign workers. Immigrants with “extraordinary abilities” such as professors, researchers, multinational executives and athletes, would be exempted from existing green-card limits. The Diversity Visa Lottery Program, which randomly awards 55,000 visas to immigrants from countries with historically low rates of immigration to the U.S., would be eliminated.
  • Guest worker programs would be set-up for low-skilled workers in agriculture, construction, long-term care, hospitality and other industries. Farm workers already here illegally could qualify for green cards if they remain in the industry another five years.
  • The family reunification program would be upended. U.S. citizens will no longer be able to sponsor their siblings and adult children.

Should some form of this bill somehow survive the House and make it to the President’s desk, it will be far more conservative and limited than it is now.

Immigrant Integration Ignored in Reform Debate


June 12, 2013; Forbes

Senators, advocates, and other stakeholders in immigration reform have been dueling over border enforcement, federal benefits and entitlements, the pathway to citizenship, and even gay bi-national couples. The sparring will continue through the House of Representatives soon enough. Howard Husock, vice president for policy research at the Manhattan Institute, correctly points out that missing from the debate has been the integration of millions of undocumented immigrants who will be eligible for legalization should reform pass.

Husock highlights a provision in the Senate Gang of Eight’s bill, which he argues is just as important as more controversial sections. He writes, “The proposed Office of New Americans, designed to encourage what used to be called assimilation (or, in the politically correct parlance of the bill, ‘integration’), will try to use a special commission, public foundation, and some federal assistance to help immigrants ‘join the mainstream of civic life’…there should be broad agreement in any bill that passes that we should seek an increase in the number of immigrants who speak English, and in the number who become citizens.”

Husock realizes that “there’s likely to be dispute about just what that means—and how much should be spent toward the goal,” but he believes that “finding effective ways to realize these goals are far from side issues. Helping to bring the latest—and, in sheer numbers, the largest ever—wave of immigrants into the cultural mainstream will be crucial in defusing what may be lingering anti-immigrant sentiment, even if reform legislation passes.” He contends, however, that government might not be the right agent for the job and that integration is best left to philanthropists and nonprofit organizations.

Indeed, an Urban Institute study of immigrant-serving community-based organizations documents why these nonprofits are best suited to help immigrants integrate into our economic, political, and social mainstream. They are embedded in immigrant communities, are founded and run by immigrants, and know the particular needs of their constituents along with the most effective way of reaching and assisting them.

But will foundations and philanthropists step up to the plate and give adequate funding to immigrant-serving nonprofits that will no doubt be inundated by individuals and families seeking legal and other support services? Adriana Kugler and Patrick Oakford, senior fellow and research assistant respectively, at the Center for American Progress, estimate about 85 percent of 10.6 million undocumented individuals will be eligible for legalization. Community-based organizations are already stretched to the limit as it is. The current version of the Senate bill does include a provision authorizing about $50 million in grants to nonprofits that assist eligible immigrants through the process, but this will most likely be stricken out as the debate continues.

Experts from all sides have made projections about how much immigration reform might cost, even though the details are in flux and passage of legislation is not guaranteed. Nonetheless, we need to factor in how much it would cost immigrant-serving nonprofits, and the philanthropic class had better be ready to loosen their purse strings.

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly’s Newswire.

The Immigration Bill’s Poisonous Gay Amendments

U.S. Senators have submitted their 301 amendments to the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013, with Republican Sen. Grassley responsible for 77, a quarter of the entire lot. Sen. Sessions comes in second with 49 amendments. Among the Democrats, who authored a third of the amendments, Mazie Hirono has the most, 24.

The Senate Judiciary Committee begins the amendment process Thursday. It will be interesting to see which amendments make the cut and how the measure will look after weeks of what will no doubt be spirited hearings.

LGBT advocates and their allies will be anxiously monitoring two proposals from Sen. Leahy. The amendments seek to rectify the immigration measure which currently excludes lesbian and gay binational couples. GOP senators and conservative activists have warned that inclusion of such couples would be a “poison pill” which would kill the legislation.

The purpose of Leahy’s first pro-LGBT submission is “to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to eliminate discrimination in the immigration laws by permitting permanent partners of United States citizens and lawful permanent residents to obtain lawful permanent resident status in the same manner as spouses of citizens and lawful permanent residents.” In short, to treat permanent partnerships the same as marriages for immigration purposes.

Leahy’s second proposal seeks “to recognize, for purposes of the Immigration and Nationality Act, any marriage entered into in full compliance with the laws of the State or foreign country within which such marriage was performed.”

Neither amendment uses the words lesbian, gay, or homosexual. Everyone knows, however, that these changes have to do with same-gender couples. I have said elsewhere that I believe lesbian and gay couples will be left out of immigration reform. Not because I think we should. My husband and I are among the thousands of couples that would benefit. I say so because of the political realities of Washington.

You can watch the HuffPost Live segment where I join the discussion about the immigration bill and gay binational couples here.

Breaking Down the Gang of Eight’s Immigration Bill

The Senate’s “Gang of Eight” released details of its immigration reform legislation last week, so the Urban Institute updated its earlier infographic comparing the White House’s immigration blueprint to the Senate bill.

The president and the senators are, for the most part, in sync. But differences over a few key provisions have advocates from all corners expressing concern for their constituencies, promising an intense debate moving forward. As could be expected from some quarters, immigration reform was insinuated into the Boston terror attack.

The President prioritizes an immediate path to citizenship, while the Senate focuses first on secure borders and successful enforcement. Under both plans, it will take eligible immigrants about the same amount of time — at least 13 years — to become U.S. citizens. The Senate bill cuts the number of family visas and repeals diversity visa programs, both of which are of grave concern to immigrant advocates. The president’s blueprint includes LGBT families, while the Senate’s bill purposely leaves them out.

The immigration bill is far from perfect and the House of Representatives should be offering their own legislation shortly. We can expect various groups lobbying hard to ensure that the final bill, should there be one, covers their interests. We can also expect the Gang of Eight to fight hard for what the president has characterized as a compromise effort. Sen. Rubio, in particular, has come out swinging. His presidential ambitions, after all, are at stake.

Originally posted on the Huffington Post.

Immigration Legislation Takes Shape

The Senate’s “Gang of Eight” released details of its immigration reform legislation Tuesday, so we have updated our earlier infographic comparing the White House’s immigration blueprint to the Senate bill.

The president and the senators are, for the most part, in sync. But differences over a few key provisions will have advocates from all corners lobbying for their constituencies and will make for an interesting debate moving forward.

The President prioritizes an immediate path to citizenship, while the Senate focuses first on secure borders and successful enforcement. Under both plans, it will take eligible immigrants the same amount of time—at least 13 years—to become U.S. citizens. The Senate bill cuts the number of family visas, which is of grave concern to immigrant advocates.  It also repeals diversity visa programs. The President’s proposal includes LGBT families, while the Senate’s bill purposely leaves them out.

The House of Representatives should offer their own bill shortly. It will most likely have the same contours.

immigration reform_second edition

Originally posted on Urban Institute’s MetroTrends Blog.

No Surprise, Gays Left Out of Immigration Reform Bill


(Photo: Flickr/mdfriendofhillary)

The Senate Gang of Eight has finally released its much-awaited immigration legislation. The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 is characterized by President Obama as a compromise bill which is largely consistent with his own principles for immigration reform.

The proposed law further fortifies our southern border and bolsters law enforcement, provides a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, creates guest worker programs for low-skilled and agricultural workers, increases the number of employment visas, and eliminates employment and family visa backlogs. It also cuts and limits the number of family visas and repeals diversity visa programs while creating a merit-based visa system based on education, employment, and length of residence in the U.S.

The comprehensive bill excludes LGBT families. Lesbian and gay Americans and permanent residents will still not be able to sponsor their loved ones for permanent residency.

The exclusion of families like mine comes as no surprise. I have been in Washington, D.C. long enough to know that compromises are made and deals brokered when crafting legislation. I am also aware that some constituencies are more influential than others. In order to get bipartisan buy-in, both sides had to give some. The Democratic senators decided that tens of thousands of LGBT families are dispensable. While the LGBT community has sway with Democrats, it was not enough in this battle. There are far more important players to please and the “greater good” to consider.

How do I feel? Angry, certainly. Resigned, mostly. This is how our democracy works. In the coming months, various interest groups and their champions will lobby Congress to make sure that they get something in the final immigration reform package. LGBT organizations and coalition partners will vigorously protest the exclusion of lesbian and gay binational couples. But at the end of the day, we will still be left out in the cold. And President Obama, who includes us in his own reform blueprint, will sign a comprehensive – but not inclusive – immigration law. And, I will be rational, saying to myself that this is a good thing.

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

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.