Growing up multicultural has many benefits.
Learning there is more than one way to skin a cat – that different approaches to the same problem may be equally valid – is one such virtue of living in a home with parents from diverse ethnic backgrounds.
Time and again, this lesson has provided me tremendous dividends as a Riverside immigration lawyer over the past few decades.
In other words, as my former political philosophy professor Robert Nozick noted, “Instead of trying to prove your opponent wrong, try to see in what sense he might be right.”
The assessment of varied responses to the Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program taken by Asian and Pacific Islander immigrant youth vis-a-vis their Hispanic and Latino colleagues would benefit from this perspective.
Along this line of thought, a deeper look into the underlying reasons for the lower levels of Asian support would be instructive for all immigration reform advocates.
A Flawed Media Bias: Higher DACA Participation Rates
My interest in this topic was piqued by the title of a recent news article on the subject.
Being that my primary ethnic roots are Hispanic and Asian, the headline, “Asians, many out of shame, not seeking U.S. deportation protection“, quickly caught my attention. It felt misleading.
The article focused on the different application rates for DACA among various ethnic groups – especially the wide gap between Hispanic youth and Asian youth.
I am not surprised by the varied cultural responses to DACA.
I am surprised by the dominant media position on this issue.
Of course, I shouldn’t be surprised by such news slanting.
After all, the immigration reform debate is largely characterized as a Hispanic and Latino issue in the mainstream media.
Nearly every report on the DACA application rate variance has subtly, even perhaps subconsciously, presumed the better road to immigration success is to follow the path taken by the majority of Latinos.
As one critical of the shortcomings and potential ill effects of the Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals program from its inception, the encouragement to join the DACA ranks is not subtle to me – regardless how the issue is portrayed.
Perhaps joining is the better path for young immigrants. For some, certainly. For the majority, history will decide.
In my role as a family unity lawyer, I adhere to a code that DACA applicants should understand all risks, actual and potential, before jumping on the bandwagon.
Contrarily, the media minimization of legitimate Asian and Pacific Islander fears that applying for DACA benefits could expose family members to risks of deportation forecloses a substantive discussion on the merits of their position.
Why isn’t the Hispanic and Latino willingness to potentially place themselves and their relatives in harm’s way explored by reporters covering the DACA application differential between the two cultural groups?
Are Hispanics and Latinos simply more optimistic about the future of immigration reform, and, if so, why?
Or are there other, less obvious factors at play?
After all, instead of blindly trying to prove an adverse position wrong, it’s a good idea to see in what sense it might be right.
Asian And Latino DACA Statistics
A recent Migration Policy Institute study showed the difference in the application rates for DACA and related temporary immigration relief differs among a variety of ethnic groups.
The gap between eligible Asian and Hispanic youth is clear:
- Latin America – 77%
- Asia Pacific – 21%
The difference in the application rate of eligible immigrant youths was 56%, not a small figure statistically-speaking, illustrating a marked distinction between the views of the two communities towards immigration reform.
Approximately 979,000 unauthorized immigrants from Latin America and the Asia Pacific met all criteria for DACA at the August 2012 launch.
The top application rates by eligible youth by country:
- El Salvador 91%
- Argentina 91%
- Mexico 82%
- Honduras 81%
- Pakistan 28%
- Philippines 23%
- India 20%
- South Korea 20%
The DACA application numbers are even lower for other Asian countries.
Factors Of Asian And Pacific Islander DACA Participation
Many news articles emphasize shame as the primary, if not exclusive, rationale for the low Asian immigrant youth DACA application figures.
Having helped Asian and Pacific Islander immigrants from many different countries as a family visa and green card attorney, I believe the foremost reasons are far more varied and deeper.
In fact, I have never met an undocumented Hispanic or Latino immigrant who neither has a similar sense of stigma and angst about their lack of permanent resident status, nor attempts to conceal this secret from individuals with whom they do not have a personal relationship.
The degree of embarrassment, distress, and loss of self-esteem may be lower among Hispanics and Latinos, but the sentiments are nonetheless present.
In my view, factors for the tepid DACA response by Asian-American communities and Asian immigrants include:
- Sense Of Shame – Unauthorized legal status is taboo in some Asian communities
- Danger To Others – The fear of going forward because their actions may put other undocumented family members at risk
- Lack Of Political Trust – A high distrust of government, stemming from experiences in their home nations
- Language Barriers – Unlike the abundance of Spanish-speaking television, radio, and newspaper outlets, most Asian communities have few such resources – and Asian languages differs greatly from one culture to the next
- Less Targeted Outreach – There exist fewer Asian grassroots and non-profit organizations, especially for certain Asian communities, reducing outreach efforts aimed at those communities in their native language
The Asian And Pacific Islander Language Gap
The media propensity to focus on singular aspects of the reluctance of Asian youth to join the DACA bandwagon is part and parcel of a lingering public tendency, even among those who should know better, to place the actions of immigrants from various countries into behavioral pigeon holes.
The problem has not gone unnoticed.
An Inland Empire effort led by University of Riverside Political Science Professor Karthick Ramakrishnan to overcome common stereotypes about Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) has been launched in conjunction with White House officials.
Lack of adequate data – assert Kiran Ahuja, Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and Jordan Matsudaira, Chief Economist of the Council of Economic Advisers – has given rise to a model minority myth, the notion that virtually all AAPIs are self-sufficient, well-educated and upwardly mobile.
On the contrary, they claim, Pacific Islanders have the highest unemployment rate of all ethnic or racial groups, and Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders have the lowest rate of using mental-health services among all minority groups.
Moreover, three of four AAPIs speak a primary language other than English at home. A large percentage speak only limited or no English.
The language barrier is related to AAPIs immigration history.
Asian-Americans are more likely to be immigrants than people of Latin American ancestry. According to Census Bureau estimates, 67% of all Asians living in the U.S. were born abroad, compared to less than 31% of Latinos currently living in the U.S.
This communication problem is compounded by the fact that Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders are not a linguistically cohesive group; rather, they speak many different languages.
According to Marc Dicamillo, the director of the nonpartisan Field Poll hired to survey the various AAPI communities as part of the UCR-led study, it is far more difficult to reach the different Asian-American communities than it is to reach people of varied Latin American background.
“Other than Brazilians,” he points out, “the overwhelming majority of Latin American immigrants speak Spanish (although some indigenous people from Latin America speak only indigenous languages and know little or no Spanish or English).”
“It’s quite different,” emphasizes Dicamillo, “with Asian and Pacific Islanders, each of whom has a unique language.”
In the Inland Empire alone, Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, Vietnamese, Japanese, Tagalog, as well as Cambodian, Hmong, Indonesian, and Thai dialects, are spoken in AAPI households.
In my perspective, this language barrier is an equal, if not greater, contributor to the lower Asian and Pacific Islander DACA participation rates than a sense of personal shame.
It seems that if the language barriers were reduced, enabling better targeted and extensive community outreach, more Asian and Pacific Islander youngsters would file for DACA status.
Nonetheless, it remains likely the combination of factors listed above would still contribute to lower participation rates by AAPI immigrant youth than their Latino counterparts.
The variance between Asian and Hispanic participation cannot be entirely explained by reference to the Asian language handicap – or any singular cause – and though improved communications would reduce the variance, it would not totally eliminate it.
The Supreme Court DACA+ Decision: The Asian Reaction
Given the low DACA participation rates, one might presume that neither Asian nor Pacific Islander immigrants felt remorse or anxiety over the recent Supreme Court decision in U.S. v. Texas.
This would be erroneous.
Several Asian and Pacific Islander community leaders and activists were quick to denounce the opinion, which not only prevented the implementation of the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) program, but also the expansion of DACA.
Stressing deportation concerns, Johanna Hester, President of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, noted, “Too long have undocumented immigrants been ostracized for their immigration status, and with this new ruling, our communities will still continue to live in fear and worry about being torn away from their loved ones.”
“We will not give up the fight and urge the Department of Justice to seek a rehearing for when the Supreme Court once again has nine justices,” proclaimed Christopher Kang, Director of the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans.
The Executive Director of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Margaret Fung, stated her organization is urging the Justice Department to seek another hearing on the executive action when a ninth Supreme Court justice is confirmed. “While the Court’s split decision is a setback that has delayed the hopes of millions of undocumented immigrants and their families, we will explore all options in continuing the fight for immigrant rights.”
Stewart Kwoh, President and Executive Director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, said his group “remains committed to the fight to expand administrative relief to more undocumented immigrants, as well as the larger goal of an immigration system that ensures all immigrants are safe from deportation, able to reunite with their families, and treated with dignity and respect.”
The widespread Asian and Pacific Islander activist opposition to the Supreme Court refusal to expand the original contours of DACA illustrates another piece of the low DACA participation puzzle.
Despite their limited DACA participation, Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders back government social programs.
In one recent study, over sixty-nine percent expressed support for affirmative action in jobs and education. On the surface, the findings appear incompatible with the failure to embrace DACA.
To the extent Asian and Pacific Islanders are not shamed by engaging with social support programs like affirmative action, the shame of engaging with an immigration helping hand is not the sole, or perhaps even the foremost factor, for their reluctance to join the DACA craze.
This indicates, at a deeper level, that other factors – communication barriers, fear of placing relatives in harm’s way – play no less than equal roles in shaping the willingness of Asians to participate in DACA – and why nearly 80% of eligible Asian youth have not followed the Hispanic path.
The bottom line is that neither approach is necessarily wrong and only time will tell which approach was the correct path for the majority of those eligible to apply.
The media, pundits, and community activists ought not pretend otherwise. They have no crystal ball and placing immigrants’ lives in the path of danger, under a pretentious cloud of certainty, is not an act of true leadership.
On that, both my parents – despite their varying cultural roots – would agree.
By Carlos Batara, Immigration Law, Policy, And Politics