A week after President Trump's administration announced it would end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, members of Congress stood alongside Asian-American undocumented immigrants in a show of the diversity of young students and workers whose future status in the United States is in limbo.
“We are here to fight for the 800,000 dreamers, including the 130,000 Asian-American Pacific Islander dreamers who were brought to this country as children through no fault of their own,” Representative Judy Chu, chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus that hosted the news conference, said Tuesday. She referenced a figure from former president Barack Obama's administration of how many Asians in the United States were eligible to apply for the program. About 16,000 DACA recipients are Asian-American Pacific Islanders, according to the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans.
"I am a dreamer and the U.S. is the only country I have ever known," said Chirayu Patel, founder of DACA network, which provides information and legal resources for DACA recipients.
New applications for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, will no longer be accepted, attorney general Jeff Sessions announced on September 5.
The future status of the hundreds of thousands of young, foreign-born students and workers, so-called "dreamers" is unclear. Congress has six months to act if it wants to continue to allow them to remain in the United States.
Patel and Representative Chu spoke alongside colleagues, including former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, to show support for the significant number of Asian dreamers, and for a Dream act to pass through Congress, which could provide DACA recipients a more permanent path to staying in the United States.
“It’s not just one group of people that’s affected by this, it really is communities across the country – Africans, AAPIs, Latinos," Representative Pramila Jayapal, the first South Asian American woman elected to Congress, told VOA. "The problem is not just about one group of people and if we can build a solid coalition amongst all of our groups we will be more powerful in passing legislation.”
According to numbers by AAPI Data and the Center for Migration Studies, one in seven Asian immigrants in the United States is undocumented and AAPI are the fastest growing undocumented population, having tripled in the past 15 years.
“Most people are blown away when they learn this,” Karthick Ramakrishnan professor of public policy at the University of California Riverside and director of AAPI Data told VOA. But of the 130,000 DACA-eligible Asian immigrants referenced by representative Chu, only a fraction have actually applied, which Ramakrishnan says is due to a lack of awareness within the community.
“There are a lot of AAPI dreamers who have not stepped up and applied for DACA status," Representative Jayapal said. "We want to make sure that the AAPI community knows exactly what is still available to them and that they get involved.”
But a number of organizations are working to increase this awareness and provide support in a number of different languages.
NAKASEC, the National Korean American Service & Education Consortium, is one such organization which helped Jung Bin Cho file for DACA status a few years ago.
Cho, who worked two jobs while juggling an internship with being a full-time student in university, moved to Virginia when he was seven from South Korea. He told his story on Capitol Hill Tuesday, while stressing the importance of the Asian-American community standing with the Hispanic community on pressing for the Dream Act to pass.
“I’m putting another voice out there that’s very important especially because I am AAPI,” Cho told VOA, stressing the importance of making it known that DACA recipients are not all from Latin America.