As Congress continues its debate on the current immigration reform and illegal immigration problems, it appears to center mostly on Latino immigration across the Mexican border, and politicians seem to be focusing on securing the Latino vote.
However, there is a major problem with that scenario: Asia is now the largest region of immigration into the United States at 36 percent in comparison to 31 percent from Latin America, according to the Pew Research Center.
On June 13, the U.S. Census Bureau announced that the Asian population grew faster than other ethnic or racial groups during 2012; 18.9 million people of Asian heritage either lived in or immigrated to the U.S. by the end of 2012 - up by 530,000 from 2011.
“Asian Americans understand the discrimination, pain, and hardships that result from a broken immigration system,” says Stewart Kwoh, president and executive director of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center. “The government denied Asians the right to become citizens until the early 1950s, as well as largely precluding immigration into the U.S. until 1965 because of restrictionist national origins quotas.”
As the Asian American population grows, so does their political clout – for example, 68 percent supported the re-election of President Obama. And their push to fix the immigration system, at 58 percent in favor of a pathway to citizenship for the approximate 11 million undocumented immigrants. While roughly 1.3 million undocumented immigrants came from Asia, 34 percent of them became naturalized citizens in 2012, according to the Department of Homeland Security Office of Immigration Statistics. With a total 36 percent visa request backlog, currently 1.8 million Asian applicants wait for reunification with their families in the U.S.
On June 5, the Asian Pacific American Legal Center and other groups joined hundreds of Asian American and Pacific Islander families from 20 states on the East Lawn of the Capitol in Washington, D.C. for the “Stand With Families: National AAPI Day of Action for Immigration Reform.” Specifically, those Asian American groups want Congress to protect the current sibling and adult children, immigration visa categories.
“As Congress moves forward with immigration reform, [we] will remain engaged with policy makers and continue to mobilize to ensure that the final bill keeps all families together,” said Miriam Yeung, Executive Director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum.
In most cases, Asian immigrants rely on family sponsorship to come into the U.S. Under the current immigration law, immediate relatives - parents, spouses, and children of U.S. citizens - can immigrate beyond the State Department limitations, while other relatives are subject to a cap of roughly 226,000 visas per year.
What concerns Asian American groups is that the draft of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013, kills this system of family reunification by removing the current visa category for siblings of U.S. citizens, and places age caps on adult married children of citizens.
“The current Senate bill eliminates and limits the rights of U.S. citizens to sponsor siblings and married older children. Separated family members will compete for points, based on job skills, educational attainment, and family ties,” said Dae Joong (DJ) Yoon, Executive Director of National Korean American Service & Education Consortium.
According to the State Department, in 2012, 55 percent of those Asian immigrants who became permanent residents, or simply green card holders, did so through this family visa category.
Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI) noted in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in April that siblings are an integral part of the Asian family structure. “This bill will help some families reunite, but for others – especially from Asian countries – it will dramatically restrict the ability of families to reunite with certain loved ones, which has been the basis of our immigration system since 1965.”