Although the media narrative about illegal immigration in the US has most often focused on the Latino community, 1.3 million of the country’s 11.5 million undocumented immigrants are from Asia, according to the US Department of Homeland Security.
When the Pulitzer Prize-winning Filipino reporter Jose Antonio Vargas revealed his own undocumented status in The New York Times Magazine in 2011, he inspired a wave of “coming out” revelations from other undocumented immigrants in a movement that is now being driven by youth activists. Most of these perspectives have been Latino, but other communities are beginning to add their voices to the discussion.
In New York, an activist group called Revolutionizing Asian American Immigrant Stories on the East Coast (RAISE) recently produced a theater project, a short film and an ongoing blog showcasing the stories of undocumented Asian American youth.
“Coming out [as undocumented] led me to realize the irony: that making myself vulnerable actually made me safer,” writes Tony Choi, 24, on Raise Our Story, the group’s blog.
Sponsored by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund in New York, the group includes members from various Asian countries including China, Korea and Bangladesh.
“We want people to know how the issue of immigration impacts real people in real, substantial ways,” said filmmaker Brian Redondo, who worked with Corinne Manabat on Why We Rise, a short film featuring three undocumented Asian Americans. “Our goal is to humanize the issue of illegal immigration in the US, and show that it’s something that affects a broad and diverse swath of people, including Asian Americans.”
Although President Barack Obama’s 2012 memorandum Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals has provided temporary relief for undocumented youth who arrived in the US before the age of 16 and were under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund believes that the immigration bill currently being debated in congress includes several negative changes. Family visas would be more severely limited, and employers would wield greater power over workers as a result of the bill, said Bethany Li, a staff attorney at AALDEF who helped initiate RAISE.