President’s Message by: Jean Yamamoto
Now that the 2012 campaign and vote are over, the harder part of democracy is ahead of us, that is to hold our elected officials accountable. One surprising bit of information about how Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) voted in the November election is that 73% voted for Barack Obama, up from 66% in 2008. AAPI are still a relatively small in number, but they have the fastest rate of growth of any racial minority group and the fastest growing immigrant population in America. Not surprising is that among the issues AAPIs care about is immigration and civil rights.
President Obama admitted that passing comprehensive immigration reform eluded his presidency in his first term but that he is confident that this will be accomplished next year. According to White House website on immigration reform, the President’s plan includes:
- Securing our borders
- Holding employers responsible when they undermine American workers and exploit undocumented workers
- Creating a legal immigration system that reflects our values and diverse needs
- Holding people who are here illegally to certain responsibilities
Japanese Americans care about immigration reform because it is our families’ stories, too, not so very long ago. We can take up this fight for others in honor of our ancestors who didn’t have anyone to speak up for them.
It is a sad story of America that although we take pride in the fact that we are a nation of immigrants, there were too many instances of scapegoating, racial profiling, and exclusionary policies aimed at the newcomers. We saw this in the exclusion of Chinese laborers in the 19th century, the incarceration of Japanese Americans in World War II, and the post-9/11 Special Registration Program targeting South Asian and Muslim men. In each of these examples, the government reversed itself: in the 2012 apology by the US House of Representatives for the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act; in the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 apology and redress for the wartime incarceration of Japanese Americans; and the reversal of the domestic registration program of Muslims , a program that produced zero charges of terrorism.
We are hopeful for bipartisan support for a sensible change to our broken immigration system. Yes, we need to secure our borders and make sure that we keep out those that mean to do us harm but we also need a reasonable pathway for others to enter our country. It is especially important to have a family reunification plan so that people don’t have to wait years or decades to rejoin their family members. It is estimated that there are 1.5 million Asian family members of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents who are caught in this backlog.
We need to make sure that all workers are afforded protection under federal and state labor laws to protect against exploitation, intimidation, and dangerous working conditions. There must be legal channels for those who are already here, contributing to our economy, so that they may eventually become citizens. The President’s directive, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals is a good start. The Deferred Action will stop deporting undocumented youth brought to America as children if they meet certain conditions.
Finally, Comprehensive Immigration Reform has to reverse some of the methods utilized by law enforcement and homeland security in the name of immigration enforcement and national security. These tactics include a program called Secure Communities in which individuals who are detained by law enforcement for any reason, even a minor traffic violation, may be turned over to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement for indefinite detention and deportation. The problem with Secure Communities is that it is prone to racial profiling and suspicion and fear of local police that does not help public safety.
We call on our newly elected officials to take up this long overdue work to reform our immigration practices to a more humane system that will provide a pathway to full participation in our country and that recognizes the contributions of all people in our society.
Best wishes to our extended Portland JACL community for a peaceful and prosperous New Year!