Asians Slower to Seek Immigration Protection

Miyoung Lee, second from left, originally from Korea, holds her son Nate, 3, during a naturalization ceremony in the New York Public Library in New York, Wednesday, July 2, 2014. (Photo courtesy of AP/Seth Wenig)


by AMY TAXIN, Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Asians have been slower to sign up for President Barack Obama’s reprieve for young immigrants in the country illegally, and community advocates are ramping up efforts to reach thousands more who are eligible for his expanded immigration plan.

Many advocates have blamed the paltry turnout among young Asian immigrants for the administration’s 2012 program on the stigma of being in the country illegally in their communities, where many feel lacking proper immigration papers is culturally shunned.

Now, advocates worry Obama’s new program for the parents of American citizens and legal residents will be an even tougher sell as older generations of Asian immigrants are already working and supporting their families and may be even more reluctant to reveal their immigration status to friends and neighbors, let alone the federal government.

“There is this model minority myth that Asians are supposed to be successful immigrants,” said Anoop Prasad, senior staff attorney at Asian Law Caucus in San Francisco. “What does it say about you if you say: ‘Actually, I am having a lot of problems. I am not making it like everyone else in America thinks we should be?'”

Roughly 5 million immigrants are expected to qualify for Obama’s plans to give work permits and temporary protection from deportation to the parents of U.S. citizens and legal residents and many immigrants brought to the country illegally as children. While most applicants are expected to be Hispanic, nearly half a million of those who qualify are Asian, according to the Washington-based Pew Research Center.

But Asian immigrants have been less apt to apply for the government’s 2012 immigration program than their Latin American counterparts. As of last year, more than 60 percent of eligible Mexicans and Hondurans had signed up for the program, but only about a quarter of eligible Koreans and Filipinos had done so, according to the Migration Policy Institute in Washington.

Knowing the challenges, Asian community advocates have ramped up efforts to reach immigrants and to do so in a private, more personal way.

On a Chinese-language flier for a recent workshop, advocates stressed one-on-one consultations would be offered in a bid to draw immigrants who may not want to disclose their immigration status in a room full of strangers.

Translation is being offered in a spate of languages to cater to elders who probably speak less English than their American-raised children. And instead of using the Internet to reach applicants, community organizations are turning to ethnic newspapers.

“Asian youth tend to go more toward social media and Facebook. We’re actually trying to see if we can get more ads in the paper,” said Tiffany Panlilio, a legal advocate at Asian Americans Advancing Justice in Los Angeles.

But even with these efforts, some experts question whether more Asians will come forward and apply.

Tom Wong, a professor of political science at University of California, San Diego, said Asian immigrants may not fear as acutely the threat of deportation since the most of the people who are deported are Hispanic.

“It may be the case the incentive structure does not favor Asian undocumented immigrants when it comes to applying for these temporary programs,” he said.

Wong also said older immigrants who already have jobs may be less likely to seek temporary work authorization, especially if they are already working under a false name or Social Security number, fearing they could get in trouble with their employer.

Young Asians who applied for Obama’s 2012 reprieve said they were well aware of the generational divide.

Do Hee Lee, a 21-year-old college student in Maryland, said her Korean parents were nervous about her signing up for the program, but the alternative was worse: going to college in Korea and being separated from her family for years.

Seth Ronquillo, a 22-year-old community health advocate in California, said he felt he had nothing to lose when he applied since he had virtually no hope of putting his college degree to use upon graduation because of his immigration status.

His mother, however, was another story. Ronquillo said she sometimes still questions whether he could be at greater risk for deportation since outing himself to the government, especially if Obama’s successor takes a tougher stance on illegal immigration.

“I can only imagine other immigrant parents have the same mentality,” Ronquillo said.


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