Undocumented Asians rarely considered in immigration issues

Alondra Hernandez

The struggle for immigration reform is not one that is exclusive to immigrants from Latin American countries.

This hot-button issue also affects immigrants from Asian countries. And while some people would never think to consider Asians as being undocumented or illegal, many still strive to have their voices heard.

“Mostly, (people) talk about Latino immigration,” said Eunai Shrake, an assistant professor in the Asian American studies department. “They never talk about Asian immigration, so it looks like there are no undocumented Asians, but there are.”

Shrake partly credits the lack of acknowledgement to the Asian culture itself.

“We call it saving face,” Shrake said. “I try to save my face if I have a weak point and I don’t want you to know, instead of honestly talking about it and coming together to try to improve. You keep it to yourself.”

Shrake said being undocumented is considered a weak point to many Asians. But Asian immigration is nothing new.

The Asian Pacific American Legal Center reports that Asians have the highest rates of being foreign-born in the state of California. Among Asian adults over 18 years of age, 78 percent are foreign-born and 18 percent of Asian youths are foreign-born.

While Asians are not quick to speak out about immigration issues, Shrake said there are some Asian-American agencies that do.

One such organization is the Korean Resource Center, a Los Angeles affiliate of the National Korean American Service ‘ Education Consortium, Inc.

The center was founded in 1983 by activists fleeing military dictatorship in South Korea, said Yongho Kim, an immigrant rights project coordinator with KRC. In the 1990s, KRC began campaigning against what some considered attacks against a minority population, such as Proposition 187, which denied public services to undocumented immigrants.

In 2001, KRC began working toward promoting the passage of AB 540 and the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act.

“KRC has a long history of working with the youth and the youth have always been at the center of what we do,” said Kim, who also works with the center’s Organize, Rise, Act up and Get Empowered youth group.

Kim explained that the center provides education, advocacy and organizing, which gets accomplished in a holistic form in order to educate people of their rights.

He said that sometimes students are misinformed by universities as to how the law works. Kim said there are universities that tell students that only those who arrived with visas qualify for AB540 and that the center tries to remind these universities what the law truly intends.

Kim said there are two types of undocumented Asian students. There are those who entered the U.S. illegally, and those who entered with visas, but overstayed their visit.

Children who are brought to the U.S. with visas and are left with family members or in boarding schools while their parents return to their country are known as parachute kids, Shrake said. She said she believes many of these students are successes.

According to KRC, one out of every five Korean-Americans is undocumented.

“If we kick them out, they will become international orphans,” Shrake said.

Shrake used last year’s historic march as an example of the type of impact that immigrant communities can have.

Kim said in last year’s March 25 protest, the Korean Resource Center had one of the biggest Korean-American turnouts because people felt it was a significant issue.

This sentiment may have stemmed from KRC’s efforts. In 2005, the center conducted a phone survey asking Korean Americans if they supported the legalization of undocumented immigrants. Sixty percent said they did support legalization. That number jumped to 78 percent in 2006 after a campaign in which the center promoted education on immigration reform as well as a person’s civic duty to vote in order to create change. “Both legalization and family unification are critical to the Korean American community,” Kim said.

Family unity is a trait that Shrake believes Asians and Latinos share.

“(Undocumented Asian students) could be a great asset to America and a great asset to the Latin community and Korean community. They could be real bridge-makers,” Shrake said.