APA Groups Continue to Lend Voices in Immigration Rights Debate
By LYNDA LIN
DOWNTOWN, LOS ANGELES—The national “Day Without An Immigrant” May 1 brought an
outpouring of humanity onto the streets of major metropolitan areas. Leaving work and school, a
large contingency of immigrants and immigrant rights advocates took to the streets waving the
flags of their homeland and the flag of the country they want to continue to call their home.
In downtown, Los Angeles people draped their bodies in the American flag and families proudly
accessorized in red, white and blue. Japanese-themed stores and restaurants closed their doors in observance of the events. The afternoon rally was one of two scheduled events to pressure
Congress for fair immigration reform.
Amidst the throngs of people also waving Mexican flags, Asian Pacific American groups also took
part in the national May Day rallies. Many did not want lawmakers to forget that immigration reform directly affects the APA communities too.
“We are not calling for legalization just for the sake of legalization. We’re calling for legalization that
is tied to a solution, tied to the backlog [of hopeful immigrants] and tied to civil rights issues and
workers rights issues,” said Eunsook Lee, executive director of the National Korean American
Services and Education Consortium (NAKASEC).
NAKASEC and the Korean Resource Center are part of the Multi-Ethnic Immigrant Organizing
Network, a coalition of organizations that represent low-wage workers and acted as the steering
community for the rallies in many major cities. Fighting for immigrants rights to benefits has “been
part of a long trajectory” for the organization.
Over 70 percent of the Korean American community are recent immigrants who are directly
impacted by immigration policy. Of that, 18 percent of individuals are undocumented due to large
backlogs of families waiting to be reunited. It’s because of the backlog that forces many to make
drastic decisions to immigrate illegally, said Lee.
At the evening rally in Los Angeles’ MacArthur Park, a Korean American speaker talked about
having a young family member grow up without a mother, who has been waiting decades in Korea to see her daughter again.
“You have to make difficult choices. The legal system doesn’t work as it is and we need to fix the problem comprehensively,” said Lee.
Some critics even within the APA communities argue that their struggles to legally gain access to
the American dream have been dwarfed by illegal immigrants, who they see as “cutting in line.”
But Lee argues that right now undocumented workers don’t even have access to the line.
“We’re not saying one is more important than another â€¦ those who are waiting in line will still be
the first in the line, but for [undocumented immigrants] there has to be a line or access point,”
The presence of the Pilipino American community in MacArthur Park showed another nuance to
the immigration debate.
Most Pilipino Americans immigrate legally through work visas, but much of the undocumented are
made up of those who overstay their visas and are forced to take low wage jobs, said Michael
Sarmiento of Pilipino Workers Center.
“We wanted to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters,” said Sarmiento.
A House-passed anti-immigration bill, HR 4437, the “Border Protection, Antiterrorism and Illegal
Immigration Control Act of 2005” also known as the Sensenbrenner-King Bill being considered by
the Senate has been the focal point of protest. The bill proposed to crack down on illegal
immigration and promote national security, and if passed, would make felons out of illegal
immigrants, criminalize those who help them and build a 700-mile fence along the U.S.-Mexico
If passed, the bill would also criminalize Pilipino American workers who are working to send money
home to their families, said Sarmiento.
At the San Jose, Calif. rally, Rep. Mike Honda, D-Calif., urged lawmakers to listen to the national cry for immigration reform.
“If America is to remain prosperous and globally competitive, we must quickly repair our
fundamentally broken immigration system while ensuring the integrity and security of our national
borders,” said Honda in a statement. “This means comprehensive reform that unites families
separated by overly restrictive laws, provides a path to citizenship for hard-working, law-abiding
immigrants and maintains America’s historic commitment to civil rights for all.”
A day after the May 1 rallies, NAKASEC along with other organizations including the JACL, are
moving quickly to continue to “show the power and presence of the immigrant communities,” said Lee. They are working to solidify a “super coalition” to continue to put pressure on Congress.
On the agenda is a national Mother’s Day event to reunite families of American citizens and efforts
to strengthen the immigrant vote for the June primary election and subsequent November