Chu: Asian-Americans will be heard on immigration

Updated: 2013-05-28 10:52

By Joseph Boris in Washington (China Daily)

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Two weeks before senators are expected to begin debate on a proposed overhaul of US immigration law, the leader of Congress' Asian-American voting bloc wants to make sure its priorities are reflected in any bill that emerges.

"I am focused like a laser on ensuring that family unity is given the consideration it deserves as we move forward with comprehensive immigration reform," US Representative Judy Chu of California told China Daily.

Chu, a Democrat whose Los Angeles County district is 37 percent Asian-American, said it's imperative to protect and expand the ability of US citizens and legal permanent residents (green-card holders) to sponsor immigration by members of their immediate family.

As the first Chinese-American woman elected to Congress and chairman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, Chu brings personal experience - her parents emigrated from China's Guangdong province in the late 1940s and settled in California - as well as high-profile leadership to the immigration debate.

Action by the House won't come until a bill clears the Senate, possibly this summer. But the battle for public opinion has been underway for months, mostly focused on the issue of providing a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million people now living in the United States illegally.

Chu said she and her colleagues in CAPAC support the goals pursued by the so-called Gang of Eight, a bipartisan group of senators who crafted the bill headed to the Senate floor. The congresswoman stressed that concerns particular to Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders shouldn't be overlooked.

"All of us share a desire to see a common-sense solution to our broken immigration system," Chu said in an email interview. "CAPAC is focused more on protecting family unity throughout this process because the AAPI community is disproportionately impacted by family immigration.

"With family immigration backlogs, Asians make up 6 percent of the total US population but account for over 40 percent of those caught in these backlogs. For some, those wait periods can last as long as 24 years! "

A crucial bipartisan vote on the immigration bill by the Senate Judiciary Committee last week put some of those family-unity provisions in doubt. The committee rejected an amendment by Sen Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, a CAPAC member, to kill a proposed ban on citizens and legal permanent residents sponsoring immigration by their brothers or sisters.

"Other major issues, like the roadmap to citizenship, affect broader constituencies. While the need for citizenship is often talked about with a focus on Latinos, Asians make up over 10 percent of the undocumented population and over 40 percent of those who would qualify for the DREAM Act in the University of California system," Chu said, referring to a bill that would give legal status to the children of people who came to the US illegally.

Chu was also asked about the challenges of overcoming the portrayal of Asian-Americans as the country's "model minority", due to higher levels of education and affluence than other racial or ethnic groups.

"The Asian-American and Pacific Islander community is incredibly diverse, encompassing over 45 distinct ethnicities speaking over 100 language dialects," she said. "The 'model minority' myth that all AAPIs are successful and well-off is dangerous because it hides many of the real challenges and disparities in our community" including health care, income and educational attainment.

"It can often contribute to lower political engagement, because it creates the misconception that our community doesn't have needs worth fighting for. Even on an issue like immigration, with Asians now outpacing all others as the largest group of new immigrants coming to the US each year, there's a perception out there that our community is somehow less relevant to the discussion."

Increased involvement in politics should help the community move closer to realizing policy goals, Chu said, citing "dramatic growth" in the number of AAPI candidates running for elective office.

(China Daily USA 05/28/2013 page2)