On December 4th, APIAVote-Michigan attended the first annual convention for the Alliance for Immigrants Rights and Immigration Reform (AIR), held at the Compas Center for Music and the Performing Arts in Southwest Detroit. The purpose of the convention was to strategize a campaign to perform the Alliance's titular task of protecting immigrants' rights and creating comprehensive immigration reform, while faced with a majority anti-immigrant legislative environment following the results of this Fall's mid-term elections.
The convention featured speeches and presentations from several public officials and members of organizations who are pro-immigrant, such as Congressman John Conyers, Ryan Bates (AIR), Ali Noorani (National Immigration Forum), and Art Reyes (Michigan Commission on Latino and Hispanic Affairs). Although we do not feel it is appropriate to specifically reveal the strategies the convention decided upon, we can say that the current political climate for pro-immigrant legislation is daunting; at least for the next two years, regarding immigration reform, we are in crisis mode.
You may be wondering why Asian Americans are should be concerned over the immigration debate. Perhaps you see immigration as a strictly Hispanic and Latino issue. Please, sit back as we drop some knowledge on the relevance of immigration to the Asian American community.
Historically, Asian immigration was the original reason for the creation of the United States' first immigration policies. The Page Act, passed in 1875, prevented the immigration of Chinese women due the suspicion of prostitution. It was an early attempt to protect the sanctity of the United States from the "Asiatic taint." However, the first real heavy legislation was the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which specifically barred the Chinese from coming to the US. The Chinese Exclusion Act was passed as a response to strong nativist sentiments and pressure by unionized laborers, who claimed that unskilled Chinese laborers were taking their jobs and accepting wages that were too low to support an American family.
Still, the demand for cheap labor remained. One by one, the Japanese, South Asians, and Filipinos were brought into the United States to supplement the unskilled workforce, and then systematically excluded. Here's a quick list:
1907: Gentleman's Agreement - essentially excluded the Japanese
1917: Asiatic Barred Zone - created a zone over much of Asia, and excluded immigration from any country within that zone, including all of South Asia
1924: National Origins Act - excluded immigration from all aliens ineligible for citizenship -- non-whites, really.)
1934: Tydings-McDuffie Act - up to this point, Filipinos were "privileged" with virtually unrestricted immigration to the US, as the Philippines became a US territory in 1898. This Act guaranteed Philippine independence after a 12-year period, and in return, immediately restricted Filipino immigration to 50 persons a year. After the Philippines gained independence, Filipinos would be excluded.
Things changed in 1965. The US wanted to be the bastion of freedom in a world caught up in the Cold War. In order to do so, they needed to re-open their borders. The Immigration Act of 1965 is more or less the basis for our current immigration policy. It privileges immigration visas for family reunification and for highly skilled and educated workers. The family reunification allowances have resulted in rapid growth for the Asian American community, allowing families to come to the US through chain migration -- family members sponsoring other family members to join them overseas. The employment preferences have also drastically affected our community, resulting in the public image of Asian Americans typically being extremely proficient in math and the sciences, as well as being well-educated and affluent.
However, immigration remains an important issue for many Asian Americans. There is a sizable portion of Asian undocumented immigrants, known as "overstays," who remain in the United States after their visas have expired. Their stories mirror that of the Hispanic and Latino immigrants. Take, for example, Hui Ling Ng. Ng came to the United States on a tourist visa, then applied for asylum after his visa expired. In the meantime, Ng went to school, found work, and got married. His request for asylum was denied. His spouse, a US citizen, sponsored him for a green card, but the process takes five years. In 2007, with his immigration status technically being undocumented, Ng was picked up and detained by ICE when he appeared for his green card interview, and was processed for deportation. Over the next year, his family sought his release. In 2008, Ng health deteriorated and he complained of back problems. ICE insisted he was faking illness. When a judge finally ordered him to receive medical attention, he was found to have terminal cancer and a fractured spine. Ng died five days later.
Immigration and Asian Americans are inextricably linked. For that reason, APIAVote-Michigan stands as an ally for immigration reform. We work to give our community a strong political voice, especially to those in our community who are silenced.
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