While President Obama’s expanded immigration relief efforts remain blocked in the courts, the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program continues in force, and immigration advocates are dedicated to encouraging all eligible undocumented immigrants to be sure to apply. On Sept. 1, the White House Initiative of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (WHIAAPI), housed within the Dept. of Education, and numerous advocacy groups joined a roundtable to focus attention on getting more Asians and Pacific Islanders who qualify to apply for DACA.
DACA is available to certain individuals who entered the U.S. as children and, if they meet various criteria, grants them work authorization and protected status for a two year period, which is renewable.
Requests for DACA among Asians and Pacific Islanders are “disproportionately low,” said WHIAAPI senior policy advisory Reva Gupta. It’s estimated that as many as 150,000 Asians and Pacific Islanders living across the U.S. qualify to apply for DACA, and only about 14.6 percent of those eligible have requested DACA. Immigrants from Korea, the Philippines, India and Pakistan account for the “lion’s share” of Asians applying, she said. And Howard Shih, research and policy director at the Asian American Federation, said that the number of Chinese applying for DACA “doesn’t even reach the reporting threshold.”
Gupta noted that about 14,000 Asian and Pacific Islanders in Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan are eligible for DACA.
Speaking at the roundtable, which was held at the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism and hosted by the Center for Community and Ethnic Media at the J-School, Gupta stressed the economic benefit of applying for DACA. “Two out of three DACA recipients who are working have found jobs with better pay, which has translated into people begin able to help their families financially,” she said.
Why is it that there seems to be a particular reluctance in the Asian community to apply for DACA? While there is no systematic research, said Gupta, it appears, based on anecdotal evidence, that “in some cases it might be out of fear of coming forward, in some cases it might be shame of revealing their immigration status, and even in other cases it might be that they just don’t know who to trust when it comes to requesting DACA and how to get some of this information.”
James Hong, interim executive director of MinKwon Center for Community Action, which has helped process more than 1,000 DACA requests since 2012, noted some particular attitudes within the Korean community.
One of the barriers to Korean applications seemed to stem from deep-rooted Confucian culture where “any mistake or failure” is accompanied by shame. Having undocumented status could produce that sense of shame in some Koreans.
“Especially in the Korean American community, the impact of shame and secrecy have been tremendous,” said Hong. “When we talked to Korean DACA recipients, the theme of shame and secrecy was so strong in them. Many applicants…they come through our door with their parents. When their parents bring them, that’s when they find out about their undocumented status because their parents have been so ashamed to tell them about their status. The older DACA recipients talked about not ever revealing their status to anyone unless it was brought up by somebody else. It was almost an unbroken rule.”
Other panelists suggested that it may not be clear just what and who DACA is for. Juliet Choi, chief of staff at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), said that sometimes there’s a perception that DACA is “that program for Mexican children.”
After discussing the many benefits of DACA, Choi emphasized that even as individuals are being encouraged to apply for DACA, they must remain beware of scammers who will charge them for forms which are freely available, or give them poor advice. “There are individuals who will take advantage of our immigrant family members and give false information, offer to secure immigration status fraudulently,” Choi said, adding “we’ve seen the impact of these bad actors.” She said people should be sure to visit USCIS.gov/avoid-scams.
For those who applied for and received DACA, many panelists noted, the results have been transformative. Ivy Teng Lei, who came to New York when she was 7 years old, said that being undocumented “can make you feel like you have the wind knocked out of you.” Receiving DACA allowed her to go to college and get good job opportunities. Jung Rae Jang, a community organizer in New York, also spoke of the immense benefits that DACA accorded him once his request was approved.