A few weeks ago, I called attention to the need for family and friends of undocumented Asians and Pacific Islanders (API) to bravely address and problem solve issues related to legal status. The article was essentially a call for those who are not affected to step up and take action. After writing the piece, I kept thinking about the complacency I continued to experience and noticed a common assumption being made: the undocumented API community is deeply disinterested in applying to government programs regardless of benefits, and therefore efforts to outreach are not worth the investment.
As I think about this I can’t help but wonder if we are too quickly buying into the common stereotype that APIs are reluctant to enroll into or receive help from government programs. Furthermore, has this stereotype provided us with an easy excuse and allowed us to be complacent?
After all, when faced with a challenging task, such as addressing a deeply tabooed issue, it’s easier to label it impossible and disengage. By excusing ourselves from the call to action, we remain oblivious to the real needs of the API community.
However, as I pointed out in a pervious post, the undocumented API community, like other vulnerable populations, will utilize services when either the needs or the incentive becomes great enough. After our latest efforts, I’m even more certain that this is true.
From the start, the Fearless Asians for Immigration Reform’s campaign efforts were focused on conducting trainings, increasing public awareness, and bridging services and support for undocumented APIs. This generated modest interest from undocumented APIs seeking immigration assistance. Then about a month ago, Fearless Asian’s work dove deeply into ethnic media advertising, and launched the It Should Be Fair Scholarship, coincidentally articles about the work were published in the International Examiner and the Seattle Chinese Post. Shortly afterward, we started to see an influx of inquiries from the API community. In the last 6 weeks, the campaign has received over 80 inquiries about issues and concerns related to immigration, has screened over 50 undocumented APIs for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) or Deferred Action for Parent Accountability (DAPA), two federal programs that would provide certain undocumented individuals with a social security number, protection from deportation, a work permit, and other benefits.
Currently, Fearless Asians is assisting 15 API youth and young adults with their DACA applications, has helped 27 DAPA eligible APIs prepare for the proposed program, and referred about 12 non DACA or DAPA eligible APIs to partnering organizations (such as NWIRP and API Chaya) to see if they qualify for other programs or benefits. 97% of the APIs we encountered had no idea the DACA or DAPA program even existed, furthermore they were shocked to learn that the DACA program had been around for 3 years. Many expressed disbelief, many asked about risk, and all were overwhelmingly grateful for not only the program but also the support. To this day, not one of the undocumented APIs we have encountered chose not to apply to the DACA program due to it’s connection to the federal government.
The outpour from the API community made it clear: a great need exists, and people wanted to apply to the program regardless of potential risk involved. Additionally, the lack of information and awareness about DACA is great, preventing thousands of undocumented APIs from applying to the program.
Today, I’m increasingly certain that the problem isn’t that undocumented APIs are disinterest in the DACA program. Rather, as service providers, friends, family, or allies to the undocumented community, we need to stop assuming what the community wants or is willing to do. Instead, we need to provide them with options and let them decide what’s best. Anything short of this, is an injustice to the community.
To connect someone you know with resources for undocumented APIs, contact Fearless Asians today, or visit www.itshouldbefair.com to learn more. Allies, take action now and submit a pledge!