Political Endorsement Reveals Rift in Filipino Community

September 15, 2012; Source: Boston Globe

Last week, the Filipino American Families of America in Politics (FAFAP), a new group in the Filipino-American stronghold of Nevada, endorsed Republican U.S. senatorial candidate Dean Heller and in the process revealed fissures in the Filipino community.

Some Filipinos have protested Heller’s endorsement, arguing that FAFAP does not represent the community. Democratic challenger Rep. Shelley Berkley’s campaign said Heller’s camp is exaggerating FAPAP’s size and importance.

As their numbers increase in Nevada, Filipinos and Asians in general have been courted by both political parties, which compete for increasingly narrow margins. Since 2000, the Asian community has grown 116 percent in Nevada and Asian American and Pacific Islanders now count for 8.4 percent of the state’s population.

The National Federation of Filipino American Associations, citing U.S. Census figures, reports that of the more than 3.4 million Americans of Filipino descent in the U.S., close to 100,000 call Nevada home.

Luke Perry and Ceasar Elpidio, founders of FAPAP, ignored criticism and were not concerned about the possible rift they are causing within the Filipino community. They argue Heller has been a staunch advocate for World War II Filipino American veterans and their families. The issue of proper compensation and recognition for the veterans’ military service is a crucial one for Filipino Americans.

It remains to be seen if FAPAP will be able to deliver the Filipino vote to Heller and the Republican Party. Filipino Americans, like other Asians, tend to lean Democratic.

Originally posted Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire, September 18, 2012. Also on the Huffington Post, September 19, 2012.

What’s Wrong with Using DHS’ Immigration Database to Purge Voter Rolls? (A Lot)

new york votes

Some politicians are worried about non-citizens voting fraudulently in elections, but others contend the real problem is eligible immigrants not registering to vote.

Florida was finally granted access to the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) immigration database last week. The state will use information from the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) program to pursue its goal of purging noncitizens from its voter rolls. Colorado and several other states that petitioned DHS for access received word Monday that they will also be able to use SAVE for the same purpose.

Some activists have sounded the alarm in protest. But what is so wrong about using SAVE to identify people who have no business voting in the first place?

Well, first and foremost, the program was not designed to purge voter rolls.

The SAVE Program is an inter-governmental initiative designed to help benefit-granting agencies such as the Social Security Administration, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the U.S. Department of Education and state and local agencies determine an applicant’s immigration status and their eligibility to receive benefits and licenses.

John Roessler, chief of the SAVE program, maintains that SAVE is technically not even a database. “SAVE uses an online system that queries for data from multiple sources, including those that are updated in real-time and others that are updated in daily uploads.”

The SAVE process is initiated by entering identifying numbers found on immigration documents, such as alien registration numbers, and as such the system is unable to verify U.S. born citizens. The program is not a complete or accurate list of U.S. citizens.

In short, SAVE is not a definitive check for whether a person is eligible to vote or not. It runs the risk of identifying a U.S. citizen as a noncitizen—thereby robbing her of the right to vote.

What’s more, SAVE can easily be misused and abused.

The Advancement Project, a nonpartisan, national civil rights group, has expressed concern over the stampede to employ SAVE in purging voter rolls. In particular, states requesting access to the database have not provided information about how they intend to use the program to identify noncitizens on their voter rolls. Nor have they identified safeguards to ensure that U.S. citizens do not lose their right to vote as a result of program errors.

Immigrant advocates have also raised concerns that immigration checks at the polls will scare eligible immigrant voters away. Valeria Treves, executive director of New Immigrant New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE) in New York, told Fi2W earlier this week that it erodes the trust between immigrants and the government. ”If they see all this info sharing between local and federal agencies, it’s going to dissuade immigrants from engaging in the actions that we all engage in,” she said.

We should all question the motivation behind the initiatives in Florida, Colorado and the other states that will use SAVE to prune their voter rolls.

The Advancement Project argues that there is little to no evidence that noncitizen voting is a real problem. After all, federal voting law already requires proof of citizenship. However, Latino and other immigrant groups, which tend to vote Democratic and have polled majority support for President Obama, are the groups most impacted by voter purges and scare tactics. In an extremely tight presidential contest, every vote counts, especially in battleground states like Florida. Keeping eligible voters from the ballot box is one way to win an election. The right to vote is fundamental to our democracy and should not be denied to any citizen.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, July 20, 2012. Also posted on the Huffington Post, July 23 and News Taco, July 25.

Ignoring the Asian Vote

The Latino vote gets a great deal of attention during presidential campaigns—and understandably so. Latino voters in key states such as Colorado, Florida, Nevada, and New Mexico may well decide whether President Obama gets to stay through 2016 or Governor Romney takes over come January 2013.

But analysts, experts, strategists, and other talking heads are largely ignoring the Asian vote. Again, understandably so. Asian American Pacific Islanders (AAPI) make up only 4.8 percent of the U.S. population, a mere pittance of 14.7 million people compared with the 50.5 million Latinos. Moreover, AAPIs are not exactly known for their attendance come election time. Their share of the electorate hovers around the 2 percent mark.

In an extremely tight election however, every vote does count and the invisible Asian voter can make as much of a difference as her Latino neighbor. In highly contested Nevada and Virginia, AAPIs make up 7.8 percent and 5.6 percent of the population respectively.

Asian Americans are poised to be a force to be reckoned with in the near future. AAPIs are the fastest growing racial group, multiplying by 45.6 percent in the past decade, far outpacing the total U.S. population, which only grew by 9.7 percent. Their numbers have risen by at least 30 percent in all states, except in Hawaii where they are already the undisputed majority. Politicians should take note that the AAPI population grew by 116 percent in Nevada and by well over 80 percent in Arizona and North Carolina. Projections show that by mid-century, over 9 percent of the population will be of Asian Pacific Island descent.

As Don T. Nakashini, director emeritus of UCLA’s Asian American Studies Center, writes in the 2011-12 National Asian Pacific American Political Almanac: As voters, donors, public policy advocates, and elected officials, “Asian Pacific Americans seek to no longer remain as spectators to the parade of politics, or as vulnerable victims of partisan power struggles. Instead they are striving to become more organized, more visible, and more effective as participants and leaders in order to advance—as well as protect—their individual and group interests, and to contribute to our nation’s democratic processes and institutions.”

It just might be worth both parties’ time to pay Asian voters some heed.

Originally posted on Urban Institute’s MetroTrends Blog, April 24, 2012.

Ban on Foreign Money Upheld, but Immigrants Find Other Ways to Help Campaigns

Michael Dompas, an Indonesian native who has just been sent overseas by his employer, plans to return this fall to help with President Obama’s reelection campaign.

“I’m allowed to do this,” he explained. “I was so frustrated by the Supreme Court’s decision over the results of the 2000 presidential elections that I just had to do something. I wanted to give money and volunteer. So I consulted a friend who at that time worked for the Federal Election Commission.”

His friend told him that as a legal permanent resident (a Green Card holder) Dompas can give money and volunteer for political campaigns.

Since then, the Indonesian banker has canvassed for Tim Kaine during his 2001 run for lieutenant governor of Virginia, and manned the phones for presidential candidate John Kerry in 2004. In 2008, Dompas took two weeks off from work to campaign for then-Senator Obama.

The outcome of November’s elections will not only affect the lives of native-born Americans but immigrants as well. For that reason, some foreign-born individuals are doing what they can to get the candidate they believe has their best interest in mind elected.

Yet the Federal Election Commission bans foreign nationals from “contributing, donating or spending funds in connection with any federal, state, or local election in the United States, either directly or indirectly.”

Foreign nationals include those who are not legal permanent residents or do not have Green Cards, such as students, business travelers, temporary workers, and tourists. The commission also prohibits foreign governments, political parties, corporations, associations and partnerships from intervening in U.S. elections.

In October 2010, two foreign nationals who live and work lawfully in the United States filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia challenging the constitutionality of this prohibition.

Benjamin Bluman and Asenath Steiman argued that the ban violated the First Amendment and since they are here legally, their freedom of speech was also protected.

Bluman, a Canadian and self-described “passionate” Democratic supporter, wanted to donate to the 2008 Obama campaign. Steiman, who holds dual Canadian and Israeli citizenship, wanted to contribute to Republican Sen. Tom Coburn, the party’s National Senatorial Committee, and the Club for Growth.

The District Court dismissed Bluman and Steiman’s challenge last August and the Supreme Court issued an order Monday upholding the statute against foreigners making financial contributions.

Adolfo Franco, a Republican strategist who was an advisor to John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, clarifies that anyone who is in the United States, with or without a green card, can volunteer for political campaigns so long as they do not make financial contributions, make in-kind donations, or are compensated for services they render.

“Freedom of expression applies to everyone,” he said.

Franco adds that the Republican National Committee doesn’t encourage or discourage legal immigrants from volunteering.

“We do not draw a distinction between U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents,” he said. There is “no vetting process for people who walk in the door to volunteer.”

Indeed, the RNC’s website does not mention anything about who can volunteer, but does check the eligibility of anyone who donates.

Dompas shared that though he is not a naturalized citizen he gets involved “because I live here and the policies and decisions made by elected officials affect my life.”

He supports the Democratic Party because he says its core values are aligned with his own. “They care about the individual, about social welfare, which in the long run can only improve society,” he said. “They fight for social justice, which is important to me as a Catholic.”

Franco believes, however, that immigrants will likely fare better under a Republican administration. In particular, he argues that immigration reform stands a better chance with the GOP.

“Comprehensive immigration reform will become law, but only with a Republican president,” he asserted, “because most Americans would trust Republicans with immigration just as they would feel more comfortable with Democratic leadership on issues such as Social Security and Medicare. A lot of Americans think the Democratic Party is soft on the border security and illegal immigration issue, and that Democrats are not really serious about tackling the illegal issue or adequate border security.”

Dompas, on the other hand, believes that immigrants will be better off with a Democrat in the White House and said he will do everything he can to help Mr. Obama keep his job.

Dompas is justified in wanting to get involved in a campaign, as are Bluman and Steiman, as are all people living in the U.S.—citizens and non-ctizens alike—because we are all affected by the policy decisions and rhetoric of our elected officials.

But the prohibition on foreign nationals influencing, and in particular, financially contributing, to U.S. elections is sound. We want people who are truly invested in the welfare of the United States, and who identify as Americans, determining its future through the electoral process.

Arguably, there are foreign nationals who want nothing more than to be U.S. citizens or at least have a green card but currently have no visible path to citizenship. These are the unauthorized immigrants who have planted their roots with American children, jobs, and homes in communities across the country; people who have lived here for decades and know no other home, and who want to contribute fully to this country.

The question then for immigrants and their advocates is which party will give them the best chance to legalize their status and earn a voice, and a vote, in our democracy.

Originally posted on WNYC It’s A Free Country and Feet in 2 Worlds, January 14, 2012.