By: Mahima Mahadevan
Public Policy Chair, APIAVote-MI
Partisan politics, corporate interests, jargony language, boys’ club mentality – these are some reasons why I’ve kept a distance with the people that get elected to Lansing and the legislation that comes out of Lansing. To be quite honest, I was satisfied with thinking of our state government as a black box. By doing this, I gave myself permission to stay out of Lansing and hurl complaints and criticisms from afar knowing that I couldn’t (but in my reality, wouldn’t) do anything about it.
So what changed? The initial shift happened when I attended APIAVote-MI’s Legislative Day on February 28th. It was my first time being inside legislators’ offices, meeting their staff and at times the legislators themselves, and having conversations with them guided by my interests. Before that day, I had not known that legislators had an open door policy that often resulted in a high level staff member taking a few minutes to talk to people like us that walked in unannounced. The second shift happened when I realized how important it was for our representatives to make direct contact with us and vice versa. As is natural to all of us, we are more likely to consider a viewpoint or an issue when we connect a name with a face. Now, when legislators see the name APIAVote-MI, hopefully they are more likely to pause and consider what we’re asking of them since they have met us. In a similar manner, when I see the name of a legislator, I feel more empowered and willing to do something since I feel I actually know this person, even if from a brief encounter. It will still take time for me to be more actively engaged, but at the very least, I don’t feel that Lansing and I are separated by an imaginary wall. Instead, I am starting to punch through this wall instead of staying put and being quiet on the other side.
I feel the best way to get past whatever wall you’ve created around Lansing is to do what I did and take a chance to step inside. Consider joining APIAVote-MI at our upcoming Lobby Day in Lansing on Tuesday, May 14th. No experience is needed (all of us were first timers at the February 28th lobby day!). We will provide the training and materials for our legislator visits. Please RSVP to receive more details. We will also join the Michigan Asian Pacific American Affairs Commission (MAPAAC) at the Capitol on Tuesday, May 14th for their annual celebration of APIA Heritage month with distinguished APAs, legislators and special guests. Details found here. Finally, the best way to break down walls is to be introduced to the legislative process at a young age so as not to build the walls in the first place. For this reason, APIAVote-MI is holding a free Youth Civic Engagement Leadership Training this Saturday, May 11th from 10-3pm. Please RSVP to attend. And as always, consider becoming a member. It is through our membership support that we are able to build our presence in Lansing and make our legislators accountable to our concerns.
On Wednesday, May 1, 2013, Theresa Tran, President of APIAVote-MI gave a speech at a May Day Rally in Detroit, asking workers to remember the needs of Asian Americans in the discussion around Comprehensive Immigration Reform. Below is the transcript of the full prepared speech.
My name is Theresa Tran and I’m standing here today on behalf of Asian & Pacific Islander American Vote- Michigan in solidarity with our workers to support humane and swift comprehensive immigration reform.
Today is also the first day of Asian and Pacific Islander American Heritage Month, and I want to mark this day by sharing a piece of my heritage with you. I am the daughter of immigrants.
My father had the good fortune of being sponsored by his sister just before the fall of Saigon almost 40 years ago. Because of this sponsorship, he was on the second-to-last flight out of Vietnam before it was captured by the communist regime and all travel in and out of the country was shut down. If it wasn't for his sister’s sponsorship my dad and I would not be here today.
My mother came to the United States as a refugee from Vietnam. She along with her younger brother endured months of dangerous travel by boat, boat raids by pirates, and a stay in an Indonesian refugee camp before her sister in the U.S. was able to find her and sponsor her to come to here. It was because of sibling sponsorship that my mom and I are here today. My aunt was also responsible for sponsoring my grandparents and remaining aunts and uncles in Vietnam over the years. After waiting over a decade, my mom was finally reunified with her family.
Family is central to the Asian as well as the American identity. Senate bill 744 needs to prioritize the family-based system, and we need to work together to ask Senators to preserve and improve family reunification in the proposed bill’s provisions. We’re calling on our community and allies to urge our senators to include siblings and married adult children over 31, and LGBTQ bi-national couples into family reunification visa categories to be inclusive of all of our families. The bill should also be amended to put back the diversity lottery, and Bangladesh back into the country category.
Today on International Workers’ Day, we are gravely concerned about a federally mandated E-Verify. This will push our most vulnerable workers into the underground economy, falling prey to more unscrupulous employers, labor abuses and wage theft issues. The U.S. Congressional Budget Office has estimated a loss of more than $17.3 billion in federal tax revenue alone over ten years.
We also want a bill that supports our working communities. Millions of legal employees could be considered ineligible to work if E-Verify was mandated nationally; this is according to our government’s own audit. Upwards of 770,000 workers are projected to be fired after faulty “final non-confirmations (FNCs)” are given. The system has high error rates that kick out citizens and legal residents, with an error rate 20 times higher for foreign-born than U.S.-born workers. As ⅔ of APIAs are foreign-born, the highest of any demographic, with a sizeable portion Limited English Proficient, this will likely disproportionately affect APIAs. Other concerns on this issue include the potential of E-Verify becoming a de facto National ID card and used to check statuses in the street, at the airport, or getting housing. Privacy and identity theft risks, unfair and costly burdens on small businesses, and forcing employers to act as immigration agents are additional concerns.
Mandatory national E-Verify could cost small businesses $2.7 billion in the first year, and more than $6.1 billion for all businesses. Businesses could potentially shift these costs onto workers by paying them less. That’s why we’re calling for reform that treats all workers with the dignity and humanity we deserve.
Finally, we want to urge Governor Snyder and our State Representatives to support the New American Opportunity & Fairness Act, a state immigration reform package introduced last week by Reps. Tlaib, Singh, Irwin, Zemke, and Dillon, that allows MI DREAMers to get ID cards, driver’s licenses, and in-state tuition. This act will help implement the Governor’s current Welcoming Michigan initiative, and show that our state is serious about welcoming immigrants here.
We’re calling on you as allies to the Asian & Pacific Islander American community and supporters of our shared American family values to call, email, and meet with your State Representatives and Senators to demand humane and swift comprehensive immigration reform that reunites all families, includes the Diversity Lottery adding Bangladesh back into the country category, and eliminates federally mandated use of E-verify.
As my parents have always told me, “Nothing is more important than family.” We cannot wait a decade more for our families to be reunited. Preserve our families!
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