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NAKASEC’s Response to the 2010 State of the Union Address

By January 28, 2010 No Comments

For immediate release
January 28, 2010

Contacts:

EunSook Lee, NAKASEC, 323.937.3703 ext. 205
Son Sik, KRCC, 773.588.9158
Dae Joong Yoon, KRC, 323.937.3718

Hope for American Values Demands Decisive Action from Washington
Response to the 2010 State of the Union Address

Los Angeles, CA – On Wednesday, January 27, President Barack Obama delivered his first official State of the Union address.  Given that America is in the midst of one of the worse economic periods in modern history, President Obama rightly focused on the need to improve the economy and create new jobs. President Obama also brought up immigration reform and health reform – two issues important to the Korean American community and considered critical planks to any economic recovery plan for American families. As a national network of community organizations that projects a progressive Korean American voice, the National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC) and its affiliates – the Korean Resource Center (KRC) in Los Angeles and the Korean American Resource & Cultural Center (KRCC) in Chicago – provide this joint response to President Obama’s address.

HEALTH REFORM

In 2009, health reform was at the forefront of the legislative agenda for Congress, the White House and communities across the country. NAKASEC and its affiliates were part of many key events supporting quality, affordable healthcare. As Korean Americans constitute a largely immigrant community, we organized with the conviction that immigrant health is vital to America’s health.

Tonight, President Obama correctly noted that health insurance reform is fundamental to relieving “the burden on middle-class families.” He went on to state that: “I also know this problem is not going away.  By the time I’m finished speaking tonight, more Americans will have lost their health insurance. Millions will lose it this year.  Our deficit will grow.  Premiums will go up.  Patients will be denied the care they need.  Small business owners will continue to drop coverage altogether.”

Steps away from seeing health reform pass, we are heartened by President Obama’s urging to Congress: “Do not walk away from reform.  Not now.  Not when we are so close.  Let us find a way to come together and finish the job for the American people. “

In outlining the key contours of his priorities for health reform, President Obama highlighted the need for a system that “will bring down premiums, bring down the deficit, cover the uninsured, strengthen Medicare for seniors, and stop insurance company abuses.”  To do that, we hold that everyone living and working in America deserves the ability to receive medical treatment. America’s vitality would be compromised, if not thwarted, if health reform resulted in an inadequate response to our nation’s health needs. In other words, the national dialogue to fix our health care system must begin and end with the inclusion of women, immigrants, and poor communities.

Moving forward, this means the following:

  • Maintaining faith that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will fulfill his promise to reverse the 5-year waiting period for legal immigrants in federally funded Medicaid. We are privileged to have been part of the movement to sustain this effort. The repeal of the 5-year waiting period is a first step in ensuring universal access to families, elders and youth, especially as state replacement programs feel the strain of the worsening economy.
  • Opposing prohibitions that keep low-income, undocumented people from participating in the health insurance exchange. This hurtful legislative language, as found in the past rhetoric of both Senate and the President, could prevent working people and their families from accessing necessary medical care. This type of legislative language damages the identity of our nation – that aspires to values of freedom from oppression yet discourages people from seeing a doctor when they get sick in our own states and territories.
  • Reforming the health insurance marketplace such that limited English proficient health insurance subscribers would be treated more equally in small but fundamental ways. As a community that faces language barriers on a daily basis, Korean Americans keenly understand the humility and also the strength needed to speak English as a second language.
  • Advocating for provisions that address the challenges and needs of small business workers and owners to participate in health insurance programs. A substantial part of our workforce is concentrated in small businesses and they cannot be left out.
  • Not endangering the health of women, our strongest community leaders, by forcing them to navigate a complex system of financing that will be designed to make it more difficult for patients and doctors to make critical health decisions.  While reproductive health services are uniquely important to women’s lives, the current proposals make it more difficult for women to see their doctors.
  • Heeding the call for affordable healthcare. The Senate bill has been analyzed by our partners as doubly less affordable than the House bill for people in our country who are working just as hard as everyone else, but are earning the least incomes.

In the spirit of President Obama’s initial signing of the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act that gave states the option to restore funding for legal immigrant children in Medicaid, we remain inspired by the President’s statement that “the only reason we are [here] is because generations of Americans were unafraid to do what was hard; to do what was needed even when success was uncertain; to do what it took to keep the dream of this nation alive for their children and grandchildren.” 

IMMIGRATION REFORM

NAKASEC recognizes that President Obama did mention comprehensive immigration reform when he stated that, “we should continue the work of fixing our broken immigration system – to secure our borders, enforce our laws, and ensure that everyone who plays by the rules can contribute to our economy and enrich our nations.” The American people deserved to hear more – a clear articulation of his intention to move comprehensive immigration reform this year. The American people voted for courageous leadership to tackle complicated problems. This begins with making immigration reform a legislative priority and a political imperative.

It is no small fact that there was a record turnout of voters of color and of immigrant voters in the 2008 presidential elections. With the election of President Obama, a candidate that campaigned on a progressive change agenda, expectations ran high that there would be action on pressing issues pending from the eight years of the Bush Administration. Days after the inauguration on January 21, 2009, NAKASEC joined 800 faith, labor, and community members in Washington, D.C. to greet the new Administration with an urgent call to exercise executive authority to suspend the raids that were tearing apart families and devastating local economies and to lead with the values that they so earnestly campaigned on for passage of comprehensive immigration reform.

During the first year, the Obama Administration did institute needed administrative reforms such as:

1) rescinding the Social Security no-match rule (also known as the SSA no-match rule), an administrative measure would have shifted a simple wage certification process into a tool for immigration enforcement if it took effect (July 8, 2009);

2) allowing widows and widowers and their children to have their visa applications proceed upon death of the principal applicant (October 28, 2009); and

3) designating Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Haitian nationals currently in the United States shortly after disastrous earthquakes devastated Haiti (January 12, 2010).

Sadly, during this same period, raids, detentions and deportations have continued, and immigration enforcement programs, such as 287(g), Secure Communities and the E-Verify system have all expanded. The number of detentions and deportations in 2009 are at least twice as high as in 2007 during the Bush Administration.

As President Obama pledged in his closing remarks, we too, Korean Americans and immigrants, will not quit. In the coming days, we will begin to mobilize our communities to see the passage of legislation that will reform our nation’s healthcare and immigration systems in 2010.