This afternoon, I was thinking more about this petition. And it occurred to me: perhaps instead of advocating for a Lunar New Year federal holiday, we should instead have a discussion about establishing “Immigrants Day” as a U.S. federal holiday?
Okay, bear with me for a second on this one. In this country, there are eleven U.S. federal holidays, highlighting and commemorating landmark moments in American history. We “celebrate” (with a fair and arguably justified share of controversy) the discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus. We honour veterans and military service who served in the many defining wars that America has engaged in through both Veterans Day and Memorial Day. We celebrate the contributions of the labour movement with Labour Day. We remember the triumphs and sacrifices of this nation’s civil rights leaders and how the civil rights movement changed America when we observe Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
Yet, not a single day exists to celebrate America’s immigrants and its long, detailed history of immigration legislation and immigration reform.
America is a nation founded by immigrants, including many of the very Founding Fathers who first established this country. The very fabric of America is intertwined with immigration and the immigrants who have shaped and changed what it means to be American in America. In fact, I would argue that first-generation immigrants offer among the most inspiring stories of the American narrative: first-generation Americans are Americans who have chosen the American dream, who have left home and family to pursue the American dream, who have sacrificed to become a part of the American Dream. They are not Americans by accident of birth; first-generation immigrants are Americans by decision.
Many Asian Americans see the current petition asking for Lunar New Year to be made a federal holiday as long-overdue acknowledgement of the contributions of the Asian American community. But, only a subset of Asian Americans actually observe Lunar New Year; by contrast, I would argue that an Immigrant Day would include the entire Asian American community, as well as the narratives of many other communities including many Latino Americans, African Americans, and White Americans. Nearly 13% of all American are first-generation foreign-born immigrants, and of those roughly 1/3 are Asian Americans of all genders, ethnicities, languages, religions, and creeds; still more Americans are only one or two generations away from a foreign-born immigrant who first set down their family’s roots in this country. Immigrants can be found in every sphere of American life, society, culture, and industry; indeed, waves of immigrants have helped to make America the most diverse, economically successful, technologically-advanced and vibrant country in the world today.
Not only would an Immigrants Day celebrate the contributions of immigrants to the American experience, but it would also be an opportunity to remind ourselves of how immigration legislation has evolved over the generations. It would be a chance to remember this nation’s history of racist immigration law, including the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act as well as other race-based immigration laws that restricted immigration into the U.S.; but, it would also be an opportunity to commemorate and celebrate the events that led to the historic 1965 passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which abolished the national origins formula and became a pioneering piece of open-armed immigration legislation that is still a model to other governments, worldwide.
Tonight, President Barack Obama redoubled his call for passage of comprehensive immigration reform. Perhaps, now is the perfect time for Asian Americans to band together with African Americans, Latino Americans, and immigration reform activists to start a discussion advocating for a federal day of celebration and remembrance to commemorate the contributions of America’s immigrant population. I propose that Immigrants Day could be observed on October 3, the day that President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act into law.
And, that is definitely a White House petition I would sign.
Update: I created the White House petition. Please share this link: http://wh.gov/dIvd and urge others to sign it. It needs 100,000 signatures to garner an official response.
One of my chief complaints about the Obama administration (of which there are only a few, mind you) is their relative silence on the immigration debate. Immigration policy in this country is extremely broken, and one of the reasons I supported Obama’s candidacy in 2008 was based on the promise of immigration reform.
Today, the president addressed immigration with the announcement that he had signed an Executive Order to halt the deportation of young illegal immigrants. Under the new policy, those who entered the country illegally while 16 or younger, who are currently 30 or younger, who have lived in the U.S. continuously for up to five years, and who can demonstrate a successful academic or military history in this country, can delay deportation proceedings for up to two years and can also apply for a work permit, which would grant them legal (non-citizen) status.
In my mind, President Obama’s press conference today was a landmark announcement that brings us one step closer not only to realizing the DREAM Act, but which will also reinvigorate the immigration debate. It signals the administration’s ongoing interest in reforming immigration policy so that it is motivated less by irrational, racial and ethnic xenophobia and conservative fear-mongering, and is based more on encouraging the influx and retention of immigrants based on their demonstrated skill and education. This can only benefit America: attracting more potential business-owners, scientists, and engineers will stimulate the American economy by enhancing the quality of its workforce.
Way to go, President Obama. I, for one, totally approve.
Steve Li, 20, a nursing student and on-campus leader, was to be separated from his family and deported to Peru earlier this month after discovering that he is an undocumented immigrant.
I’m way late on this story, but thankfully there are others in the APIA blogosphere who have covered it well.
Here in my home turf of Arizona, a nursing student from California named Steve Li was detained in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility for two months, pending deportation. It turns out that Li, unbeknownst to him, was an illegal immigrant. Li’s family left China in protest of China’s “One Child Policy”. After being denied political asylum in the States, the family moved to Peru.
When Li was twelve years old, his family brought him to the United States from Peru without documentation. He was raised in California, with no knowledge of his illegal status. However, following an ICE raid, ICE officials initiated deportation proceedings against Li and his family. Li was to be deported to Peru, a country where he would be separated from friends and family, and where he has no roots; by contrast, his family is to be deported to China.
Li spent two months in an ICE deportation center in Arizona as community leaders rallied on his behalf. Last Friday, Senator Dianne Feinstein introduced a rare “private bill of support” halting Li’s deportation proceedings temporarily, so that the DREAM Act, which is being introduced separately by the Democrats in the current Legislative session, can be voted upon.
I decided to introduce a private bill on Steve’s behalf because I believe his removal would be unjust before the Senate gets a chance to vote on the DREAM Act,” Feinstein said in a statement.
Last week, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid stated that they intended to bring the DREAM Act to a vote on November 29.
Currently, Steve Li has been released from Arizona’s ICE detention facilities, and is scheduled for a press conference tomorrow to thank all the leaders who rallied in his support for the last two months. However, presumably, if the DREAM Act fails later this month, Li’s deportation proceedings will proceed, and he will be sent to Peru by ICE officials.
Steve Li’s case is a single — but by no means the only — example of why the DREAM Act is critical. There are countless young people who are not aware of their immigration status, and who are poised to make themselves into contributing, hard-working, and productive members of this society. America is the land of opportunity, built upon the ideal that this land is a place where all people, regardless of the circumstances of their birth and their background, can work to better themselves. At the base of the Statue of Liberty, the “New Colossus” sonnet proclaims: “From her beacon-hand glows world-wide welcome.” When did this country lose sight of those principles?
Steve Li wants to be a nurse. He wants to dedicate his life to helping others. What does it say about America if we would turn a person like that away? And, worse still, that we would do so by depositing him on the sidewalk of a foreign country where he has no family, no friends, no resources, and no life?
The DREAM Act gives young people who discover that they are illegal immigrants a way to become some of the best of America. The DREAM Act promises a pathway to citizenship if these young people enroll in higher education or commit themselves to military service — in short, to give back to America more than we expect native-born American citizens to do. And, for what it’s worth, these youth want to do it.
Act Now! The DREAM Act needs your help to be passed later this month. Last time the DREAM Act was considered, it was included as part of a Department of Defense bill, and still the Republicans voted in a bloc to defeat it. This time around, we need to strongly lobby Republican senators, and gain their support in order to pass the DREAM Act. The Wonk Room has a break-down of Republican senators who may vote to support the DREAM Act… if they face sufficient constituent pressure to vote in favour of this bill.
Please join me in sending a letter in support of the DREAM Act to the following Republican senators:
Mout Iv is a Cambodian refugee who immigrated to the U.S. at age 7. After committing a crime in 1998, he should have been deported -- yet I.C.E. placed him on "supervised release". 12 years later, they are suddenly uprooting and deporting Iv as part of the Obama administration's crackdown on undocumented immigrants.
The war on undocumented immigrants has dominated news coverage over the last six months, fueled in large part by Arizona’s recent spate of anti-immigrant legislation. While issues of immigration reform are complicated, one of my pet peeves is how the debate has been characterized — almost exclusively — as a Latino issue.
So, let’s not get it twisted — all of this talk about undocumented immigration affects affects Asian Americans, of whom more than 70% are foreign-born and currently hold visas or have naturalized. A fraction of these Asian Americans are, also, undocumented immigrants who have overstayed their visas. Changes to federal immigration policies affect these Asian Americans, yet too often their stories are unheard in mainstream coverage of the immigration debate. Interestingly, these populations of undocumented immigrants may actually be disproportionately targeted by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement: unlike undocumented border-crossers who are never registered in the system, visa overstays can be tracked down based on the information filed when they legally entered the country.
One population of Asian Americans who are rarely heard from are the Southeast Asian refugee population. These are Asian Americans who found asylum in the United States to escape war and poverty in their countries of origin. Today, in the Philadelphia Inquirer, the plight of a Cambodian man was profiled.
After he was convicted of assaulting a Philadelphia man in 1998, Cambodian refugee Mout Iv knew he was in the United States on borrowed time.
As it turned out, quite a lot of borrowed time.
He was freed from a Pennsylvania prison after four years, but paperwork snafus prevented his immediate return to Cambodia, as required by law. So immigration agents put Iv on “supervised release,” allowing him to open a barber shop in Olney
The government kept tabs on him with scheduled interviews, random phone calls, and unannounced visits.
Last week, at an ostensibly routine appointment, Iv, 33, was fingerprinted, photographed, and arrested. He’s now in prison being readied for deportation.
Now, we can’t get around the fact that Iv committed a violent crime more than ten years ago: he participated in a mugging during which the victim was stabbed in the side. Being convicted of a crime of this sort is clear grounds for deportation by I.C.E.; all immigrants are (or at least should be) aware of that fact.
But that’s not what’s at issue here.
The Obama Administration — under pressure to prove that they are “tough on illegal immigration” to satisfy the xenophobia of Right-Wingers — has cracked down on visa overstays, as a means of counter-balancing their mantra on immigration reform. The silent victims of that politically-motivated crackdown are people like Iv, who have since reformed and become a contributing — and tax-paying — small business owner.
I will not argue that Iv’s deportation is unfounded. Frankly, if you break the rules, you cannot stay — that’s just part of the agreement immigrants have made in being permitted to enter and work in America.
However, I do think that Iv’s story indicates a fundamental break-down of the system, that extends far beyond the Obama Administration. When Iv first committed the crime that now are the grounds for his deportation, he should not have been allowed “supervised release”, and certainly not for over ten years. Iv’s story demonstrates the fundamental lack of attention that has been given to the nation’s immigration system: immigration and border authorities are so underfunded, so undermanned, and so overwhelmed with cases, that it took them 12 years to find the resources to deport a man who violently assaulted another. These offices are so lacking in basic resources that Tony, an undocumented young man who was profiled on MTV’s True Life would have to wait 13 years to naturalize.
That’s 12 years that Iv’s life was expected to be on hold awaiting deportation. And that’s 13 years that Tony’s life was expected to be on hold awaiting naturalization.
This isn’t Obama’s fault — not really, anyways. This is a chronic problem arising from prolonged band-aid solutions. Legislation like SB 1070 does nothing to fix an immigration and naturalization department with waiting periods measured in years, not weeks or months. Last week’s defeat of the DREAM Act only exacerbates the existing problems of a broken bureaucracy that has crippled this nation’s immigration system.
Meanwhile, as far as Iv’s story is concerned, I think that there should be a statute of limitations on deportation proceedings. If I.C.E. is so underfunded that it takes them more than a decade to deport a person, than they shouldn’t be able to swoop in one day (when the White House needs to save face over a political debate) and unroot him or her from the new life they have made in America. In so doing, the federal government in essence stole 12 years from Iv’s life because they couldn’t get their act together, and then they expected him to sit and wait patiently in some sort of limbo state until they finally could deport him. Meanwhile, he paid taxes, stimulated the local economy, and obeyed the law; clearly the same grounds under which he should have been deported in 1998 no longer apply now. The federal government screwed up in failing to deport him, why are they not facing any consequences for that mistake? Can there not be some sort of compromise reached wherein Iv must still face consequences for breaking the terms of his entry, but that still acknowledges how I.C.E. failed in their responsibilities in this matter?
I admit: I’m one of the few folks left in the progressive blogosphere who hasn’t yet watched “9500 Liberty”, the critically acclaimed documentary by Eric Byler and Annabel Park. But, now, I haven’t got an excuse.
I caught on my Facebook earlier today that “9500 Liberty” — a film that explores anti-immigrant sentiment in Prince William County following the passage of an SB 1070-like law — has been picked up by MTV. It will be airedSunday, September 26th @ 8pm ET/ 8pm PT on MTV 2, MTV U and MTV Tr3s (with Spanish subtitles). Check your local listings for more information.
Annabel and Eric (who are awesome and incredible people, by the way) will be hosting an online premiere party broadcast from the Coffee Party National Convention in Louisville, KY starting 7pm ET.
Yes, I will be watching (prior to my weekly date with Mad Men). Will you be joining me?