Asian American and Pacific Islander Priorities for Immigration Reform

Issues: Immigration

By CAPAC Chair Rep. Judy Chu and CAPAC Immigration Taskforce Chair Rep. Michael Honda

When Woodrow Wilson established the annual State of the Union address a hundred years ago, the United States had a strict policy forbidding Asian immigrants from even setting foot on our shores. The Chinese Exclusion Act was the law of the land, and it remains the only federal law to ever exclude an entire group of people from immigration solely because of their race.

Tonight, President Obama will step to the same podium and chart a new course for our nation – one that will hopefully result in a common sense immigration process. Moving forward, it is crucial that we also recognize the impact of our broken immigration system on Asian Pacific Americans, a community that is often overlooked in this debate.

Today, Asians make up the largest group of new immigrants coming to the U.S. with nearly three quarters of all Asian American adults being foreign born. Asian Americans are also the fastest growing racial group in the country. Yet it’s somehow still rare to hear our community mentioned in discussions around immigration. The Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, the leading voice for the Asian Pacific American community in Congress, recently unveiled five central priorities for immigration reform. With Asians making up ten percent of all unauthorized immigrants, the first among these is the need for a roadmap to citizenship. In addition, the caucus has endorsed proposals to strengthen our economy and workforce, promote integration for new Americans, and establish smarter, more effective enforcement.

Finally, we support family unity and reducing immigration backlogs. Families should not be divided across continents when we know that our society benefits by keeping them together. Jerry Yang, the founder of Yahoo! is a perfect example. His mother brought him from Taiwan to America when he was ten years old on a family visa. Despite knowing only one English word – “shoe” – upon arrival, Yang went on to master the language and thrive in his new home, ultimately founding one of the world’s largest internet companies. He created thousands of American jobs and provides a service that allows millions of Americans to be more productive. Unfortunately, many immigrants are not as lucky as Jerry, and some have been forced to wait as long as 23 years to be reunited with their families in the United States.

We are a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants, and it is time for us to reconcile these facts with a workable process for people who want to move here. These people share the same aspirations as past generations of newcomers who helped build this country. Their spirit and talent is not a threat to our nation’s prosperity – if anything, it’s been the secret to our success. And as our nation has benefited from diversity, so too will our immigration debate. Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders bring a unique perspective to this discussion, and without our input, the next stage in this great American experiment will be incomplete.