APIs Wanna Know: How Much Longer Can We Wait for Immigration Reform?

By Guest Columnist Aug 21, 2009

photo credit: Seng Chen By Sara Sadhwani (This post originally appeared on Asian Pacific Americans for Progress) For nearly a decade, reforming our broken immigration system has been a central concern of immigrant communities, including Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. Despite several heated rounds of debate, legislators have been locked in a stalemate and unable to move forward a comprehensive reform package. Last week, while meeting with leaders from Mexico and Canada, President Obama stated that immigration reform must wait until 2010. For immigrant communities living and working in the shadows of a world without papers, for the millions of families separated sometimes for decades by administrative backlogs, and the thousands of families torn apart by harsh enforcement practices, being punted to 2010 for political convenience isn’t good enough. This debate has been raging on for several years, without any positive resolution. In December 2005, just before Congress recessed, the then Republican-led house passed a heinously restrictive immigration bill, HR 4437. The “Sensenbrenner bill” as it was dubbed for the author, Wisconsin representative James Sensenbrenner, would have established a long list of enforcement programs targeting the estimated 12 million immigrants living and working in the US without documents. Perhaps the most controversial provision of the bill was making any assistance to an undocumented person a felony, punishable with jail time. The bill did little to nothing to improve the system dysfunctions, such as the more than 10 year backlog many families face waiting to be reunited. The bill enraged immigrant communities and advocates of human rights, and galvanized faith communities. Spontaneous marches erupted throughout the nation in big cities such as New York and Chicago, but also in small communities throughout the Midwest. On Ash Wednesday, 2006 the Roman Catholic Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony announced that clergy and laity would ignore and defy HR 4437, were it to become law and he encouraged his parishioners to spend the forty days of Lent reflecting on the need for humane immigration reform. Over the years, we have seen several rounds of debate each one mired in political maneuvering and messaging campaigns. Conservative activists have turned a term like “amnesty” into a dirty word, while political pundits on Fox News and Lou Dobbs have used constant imagery to effectively define all immigrants as young Mexican men crossing the border fence. But as Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, impacted by the broken immigration system in our daily lives, we know their claims are simply hateful lies. And as the years have passed, the need for immigration reform has only increased. Within AAPI communities, an estimated 1.5 million people continue to live without documentation and punitive immigration laws have torn apart AAPI families and communities. Immigrants who have established roots in the United States, including legal permanent residents, are being detained and deported for minor infractions. This is especially true for the Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander communities, where many young Cambodian Americans, Tongans and Fijians are being repatriated often to lands which many of them never knew. And with the downturn in the economy, immigrant scapegoating has begun to mirror the sentiments of times gone by, such as the Chinese exclusion and Japanese internment. With the launch of the National Asian American Week of Action, a diverse cross-section of AAPI community leaders came together from across the nation to call for immigration reform. While the health reform debate continues to loom before us, AAPI communities and advocates cannot allow immigration reform to slip into the background. Join the week of action by sharing your immigration story, participating in a national text-in on August 20th, and by calling your member of Congress ((202) 224-3121) and asking him or her to support a fair and humane immigration reform legislation this year! — Sara Sadhwani is the Director of the Immigrant Rights Project at the Asian Pacific American Legal Center of Southern California.