February 28, 2013; Source: Asian Week

Many people see and hear Latino faces and voices whenever immigration is discussed, but the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community is mobilizing to make sure their countenances and voices are added to the discourse. Last week, the Asian American Center for Advancing Justice, a consortium of legal and civil rights groups, and 18 Million Rising, a civic engagement organization, launched the “18 Million Hearts: Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders for Immigration Reform” campaign. There are approximately 18 million Americans of Asian descent, or close to six percent of the total U.S. population. The campaign urges AAPIs to push members of Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

“The time has come for us to mobilize and let other Americans know how the broken immigration system is separating and hurting Asian American and Pacific Islander families and communities,” said Betty Hung, policy director of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center. “Any reform of the immigration laws must fully incorporate our shared American values of family unity, fairness, and equality.”

Unauthorized immigration and family reunification are key immigration issues for the AAPI community. About 11 percent of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. are from Asia, according to a 2012 Department of Homeland Security report. These are often parents, children, and/or neighbors of native-born, naturalized, and legal resident Asian Americans. Nearly two-thirds of Asian Americans are foreign born, but immigration backlogs can keep families apart for years or even decades. According to a Department of State Citizenship and Immigration Services report, four our of the top five countries with the longest wait times for relatives of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents are in   Asia: the Philippines, India, Vietnam, and China.

The leaders of the 18 Million Hearts initiative are empowered by their community’s growing number and clout. AAPIs are the fastest growing community of color in the U.S. and were reportedly key to President Barack Obama’s re-election. “Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are growing in strength, in number and in political power and with this campaign, we plan to flex our political muscles,” said C. M. Samala, director of   18MillionRising.org. “The 18 Million Hearts campaign will highlight our stories as   immigrants and as descendants of immigrants to build America’s future together,” added Chris Punongbayan, deputy director of the Asian Law Caucus. “Asian American   immigrants are an integral part of America – we are workers, neighbors, and small business owners who revitalize communities and contribute to the economy.” – Erwin de Leon