Asians slower to seek immigration protection over stigma, fear, language barriers

By , on February 2, 2015


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LOS ANGELES — Asians have been slower to sign up for President Barack Obama’s reprieve for young immigrants in the country illegally, and community advocates are ramping up efforts to reach thousands more who are eligible for his expanded immigration plan.

Many advocates have blamed the low turnout among young Asian immigrants for the administration’s 2012 program on the stigma of being in the country illegally. In their communities, many feel lacking proper immigration papers is culturally shunned.

Now, advocates worry Obama’s new program will be an even tougher sell as older generations of Asian immigrants are already working and supporting their families and may be even more reluctant to reveal their immigration status to friends and neighbours, let alone the federal government.

“There is this model minority myth that Asians are supposed to be successful immigrants,” said Anoop Prasad, senior staff attorney at Asian Law Caucus in San Francisco. “What does it say about you if you say: ‘Actually, I am having a lot of problems. I am not making it like everyone else in America thinks we should be?'”

Roughly 5 million immigrants are expected to qualify for Obama’s plans to give work permits and temporary protection from deportation to the parents of U.S. citizens and legal residents and many immigrants brought to the country illegally as children. While most applicants are expected to be Hispanic, nearly half a million of those who qualify are Asian, according to the Washington-based Pew Research Center.

But Asian immigrants have been less apt to apply. As of last year, more than 60 per cent of eligible Mexicans and Hondurans had signed up for the program, but only about a quarter of eligible Koreans and Filipinos had done so, according to the Migration Policy Institute in Washington.

Knowing the challenges, Asian community advocates have increase efforts to reach immigrants and to do so in a private, more personal way.

On a Chinese-language flier for a recent workshop, advocates stressed one-on-one consultations would be offered.

Translation is being offered to elders who probably speak less English than their American-raised children. And instead of using the Internet to reach applicants, community organizations are turning to ethnic newspapers.

“Asian youth tend to go more toward social media and Facebook. We’re actually trying to see if we can get more ads in the paper,” said Tiffany Panlilio, a legal advocate at Asian Americans Advancing Justice in Los Angeles.

But even with these efforts, some experts question whether more Asians will come forward and apply.

Tom Wong, a professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego, said Asian immigrants may not fear as acutely the threat of deportation since most of the people who are deported are Hispanic.

Wong also said older immigrants who already have jobs may be less likely to seek temporary work authorization, especially if they are already working under a false name or Social Security number, fearing they could get in trouble with their employer.

Young Asians who applied for Obama’s 2012 reprieve said they were well aware of the generational divide.

Do Hee Lee, a 21-year-old college student, said her Korean parents were nervous about her signing up for the program, but the alternative was worse: going to college in Korea and being separated from her family for years.