Amira's Story | AAPIs Need Permanent Solutions As Well

Joseph Santos-Lyons

Family unity is one of the most cherished values of the AAPI community...Some may risk becoming undocumented immigrants in order to join their families.

Immigration deeply affects Oregon’s Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) communities, and we wanted to take a moment to acknowledge and affirm the June 15th decision to provide temporary relief to 800,000 undocumented young people who face deportation by the Obama Administration. While an important step, it is not a permanent solution and policies including the DREAM Act and Tuition Equity need our support and reminds us the value of civic engagement and leadership development for our communities.

Family unity is one of the most cherished values of the AAPI community, as well as one of the guiding principles of U.S. immigration law and policy since 1965. But the current immigration system no longer honors families. Thousands of AAPI families must wait years to be reunited with their loved ones who are caught in the lengthy family immigration backlogs. Some may risk becoming undocumented immigrants in order to join their families. Other AAPI families have been torn apart by punitive immigration laws which do not consider the impact on families when detaining or deporting immigrants." - National Council of Asian Pacific Americans

In our communities, over 60% are immigrants and refugees, and while many are naturalized US Citizens, thousands still face significant challenges to family unification and the self-sufficiency of being fully documented. An estimated 10% of the undocumented people in the US are Asian and Pacific Islander, estimated at over 1.2 million persons. Our communities make significant social and economic contributions to our country, and we need fair, non-discriminatory immigration reform to ensure we all thrive. In Oregon, we have heard countless immigration stories. There are joyful accounts of families finding a new home and opportunity in America, and there are tearful tales of families waiting to reunite with their loved ones. A Devastating Wait is a powerful report on AAPI Family Unity and Immigration.. AAPI are impacted by the increasingly militarized immigration system, and are being detained, deported and denied fairness and justice.

We are privileged to share an interview with Amira, an APANO member and first generation Filipina immigrant, who is active with the Oregon DREAMers, a grassroots group lead by Latino immigrant youth. The DREAMers work with community allies, including other youth, teachers, school administrators and elected officials to win greater access to higher education through passage of the DREAM Act, comprehensive immigration reform and tuition equity.

Read on for Amira's Story.

Interview with Amira, APANO Member and Oregon DREAMer June 2012

Q: How has US immigration policy impacted you and your family?

Immigration policies has affected every member of my family. We're first generation immigrants from the Philippines, and for a while my nuclear family was a mixed-status family. Dealing with the immigration system is very confusing, timely, and costs a lot of money. The immigration system is not a friendly institution when it comes to the Asian & API community. The way it is now, it's not designed to help families to stay together, or even be able to define what their families are supposed to be like. Our family took years to get our papers completed by the US Embassy in the Philippines, and even then we weren't able to include my entire nuclear family. Because of my Dad's undocumented status, it was difficult for him to find jobs stable enough or that paid enough that he could adequately cover child support to help out my biological Mom.

The immigration system also encourages people in our communities to turn against each other, and it had devastating effects on my family. Don't like someone in the community, or want to exploit them? There's a phone number you can use to threat people without documents and have them taken away. Right before 9/11, someone from the Pinoy community called the feds on my Dad, and INS officers raided my Dad's and Stepmom's home and took him away right then and there, first to the USCIS Office in Portland, and then to the Tacoma Detention Center. When my Dad decided to voluntarily remove himself and went back to the Philippines, his country of origin, it was a family crisis. After 9/11 my Dad was placed in maximum security, and he protested with a hunger strike. My Dad isn't a criminal---but he was treated like one. My Dad was an integral part of our family, and when he was forced to leave us we (my Stepmom, Brother, and I) tried to pick up the pieces of running a family business (that he and my stepmom started together), but in the end we had to shut the family business down. It was too much---emotionally and physically---without my Dad.

Why is the issue of immigration important to you?

I was lucky that my Grandfather was able to petition me, my Brother, and my Mom---we got here with documents. My Dad did not have that same privilege. I was ten when we got to the US---and I was very scared that my Dad would get taken away. I didn't have a typical childhood. I never invited friends to come over to play, and I didn't want to play with them either, for fear that my Dad would get taken away if people ever found out that he was undocumented. He was TNT (tago ng tago) in the Pinoy community, and no one wanted to talk about it.

Even though I am documented and became a citizen last November, I'm still living my life with immigration policies in the back of my mind---if you do this or that, I might get deported or detained---thanks to ICE and Secure Communities, it doesn't even matter if I'm a citizen or not. I'm visibly not white, and am vulnerable to racial profiling. The immigration policies after 9/11, the changing of INS to Dept. of Homeland Security, that I have little control over being able to keep my family together, were messages that were instrumental in keeping me from wanting to participate fully in this country's democratic process for a very long time. So, immigration is a very important issue for me. It tore my family apart. What good does Obama's decision have if not everyone can have access it? Everyone who is contributing to this country's economy deserves the right to have a clear path to citizenship. My motivation for doing work with Oregon DREAMers is very personal and very political, and comes from a deep place in my heart.

What does Obama's decision mean to you?

Obama's decision means a lot to me. It doesn't affect me directly, but it does open up the subject of immigration and who it benefits and which families get exploited by it. I've made a lot of friendships with students who are undocumented, and they and their families are an amazing and inspirational part of the communities I belong to---they are leaders in the community but because of the rhetoric around having an undocumented status---people don't know about the unnecessary hardships students without documents and their families have to go through when trying to get an education. It opens up the dialogue about Tuition Equity at the state level, and the DREAM Act at the federal level, and what happens to undocumented students after they graduate from college (a feat upon itself). It opens up the dialogue of people being able to have a clear path to citizenship. Not having a clear path to citizenship is something that affects all communities of color; Asian & Asian Pacific Islander communities have just as much at stake as the Latino community. We all got here somehow, but not everyone has the same story of how we got here, and we don't all have the same story of how we're able to stay here. If we look at the history of who is able to gain citizenship, every community of color in the US, including Indigenous people, all took turns in not having a clear path to citizenship depending on the current political climate.

And while Obama's decision to halt the deportation of young people under the age of 30 (if they meet specific requirements) is a great victory for all immigrant communities, the work doesn't stop here. This is just the beginning. Tuition Equity and the DREAM Act need to get passed, and we need a clear path to citizenship for all undocumented people who are already here and contributing to our economy.


The Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO) works to achieve racial equity for AAPI, and we are deeply engaged in health and education issues where barriers for immigrants, language access, and cultural competency are key concerns. You can help support this work through becoming a member or friend of APANO with a financial contribution, and volunteering to help ensure our AAPI communities are fully engaged in the political, social and economic issues that affect us. For more information visit www.apano.org or call 971-340-4861.

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