Thursday, August 3, 2017

Looming battles: Immigration and affirmative action

Family reunification is a priority for immigrants from Asia.
(UPDATED: Aug. 3, 10:15 a.m. to include comments from AAAJ.)

DON'T PUT away your anti-Trump posters yet. Don't erase the email addresses and hashtags of your Congressional representatives. Don't put away your pink pussy hats. You'll need them for the upcoming battles on immigration and affirmative action.

We barely had time to breathe a sigh of relief at thwarting the GOP attempts to kill the Affordable Care Act when the Donald Trump administration threw more incendiary fuel on the fire.

In the last two days, Trump has set its sights on affirmative action and immigration, two volatile issues that have the potential to divide The Resistance along racial and ethnic lines and at the same time shore up Trump's support among the alt-right and the disaffected whites who flocked to his message of the poor white victim under attack by people of color.

Cutting immigration in half

"This proposal to slash our current legal immigration system by 50% and to create a bureaucratic ‘points’ system will disproportionately impact the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community," said Rep. Judy Chu, chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. 

Under the RAISE act preference would be given to highly skilled and English-speaking people who want to immigrate to the U.S. The authors, Republican Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia, won't admit this but clearly the policies are aimed at slowing immigration from Latin America but also affecting most immigrants coming from 
Asia, especially China, which has had the highest immigration rate in the last five years.

The policy "discriminates against immigrants who do not have access to high quality education or English language skills," said the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans.
I suspect that the policy is also intended to give an advantage to immigrants from the English-speaking countries of Australia, Canada and Great Britain. However, I wonder if the authors unwittingly gave an edge to immigrants coming from South Asia and the Philippines, which coincidentally, also provides a great number of workers in the health and high-tech industries.

In the last few years, the immigration rates from South Asian and the Philippines (along with China and other Asian countries) have surpassed the immigration rates from Latin America and Mexico.

One need only look at the past five years to see how this trend is taking form. According to a study by PEW, of immigrants who've been in the United States for no more than five years, more have come from Asia (2.5 million) than from Central and South America (1.7 million).

Although AAPIs comprise 6 percent of the total U.S. population, they account for over 40 percent of the 4.3 million individuals languishing in our current family immigration visa backlogs, often waiting decades to reunite with their loved ones.

In the last few years, the immigration rates from South Asian and the Philippines (along with China and other Asian countries) have surpassed the immigration rates from Latin America and Mexico.

One need only look at the past five years to see how this trend is taking form. According to a study by PEW, pf immigrants who've been in the United States for no more than five years, more have come from Asia (2.5 million) than from Central and South America (1.7 million).

By giving preference to needed job skills, the proposal would shift away from the emphasis on family reunification under the current system. Trump is selling this proposal based on his false assumption that non-English speakers are taking low-skill jobs away from poor Americans which will further alienate immigrants from Trump backers.

The vast majority of Asian immigrants have come to the U.S. through the family-based 
immigration system, and many Asian immigrants that come on employment-based visas also use the family-based system to reunite with family members.

"Our immigration system should continue to value families," said the Asian Americans Advancing Justice in a statement. "Instead, the RAISE Act proposes to decimate the family-based immigration system, keeping families separated and preventing immigrant communities from taking root.

"The RAISE Act is part of a larger strategy to scapegoat immigrants and further marginalize people of color. Contrary to the xenophobic and misguided stereotypes that belie the RAISE Act, immigrants contribute immensely to our economy, create jobs for all Americans, and increase safety in our communities," concluded the statement. 

One of the goals of affirmative action is to provide a diverse environment on campus

On affirmative action, Asian Americans used as a wedge 

The other proposal that is going under the radar (because of all the hoopla around Russia) 
is the quiet and almost 180-degree shift taking place in the Department of Justice taking aim at affirmative action policies employed by schools and work places.

Reports from the New York Times, uncovered a memo circulated in the DOJ asking for lawyers who would like to work on the new initiative that would explore discrimination against whites in college admissions.

The document uses not-so-specific language, saying the new project will focus on “intentional race-based discrimination,” which obscures the magnitude of the shift involved and the impact it would have on the beneficiaries of affirmative action, many of whom are 
students of color.

The Justice Department said the stories were much ado about nothing, saying a job posting “sought volunteers to investigate one administrative complaint filed by a coalition of 64 Asian/American associations in May 2015 that the prior Administration left unresolved.” A spokeswoman added, “The Department of Justice is committed to protecting all Americans from all forms of illegal race-based discrimination.”

The case being referred to is a complaint against some Ivy League colleges filed by  relatively new Asian American immigrants and groups formed after affirmative action became a policy in an effort to open the doors to underrepresented minorities. Some of the groups have aligned with conservative organizations that have filed lawsuits claiming reverse discrimination.

The majority of Asian/Americans and established AAPI civil rights organizations such as the Japanese American Citizens League and the Organization of Chinese Americans support affirmative action. 
“The announcement today that [the Justice Department] is now actively seeking to challenge efforts that colleges and universities have undertaken to expand educational opportunity is an affront to our values as a country and the very mission of the Civil Rights Division,” Vanita Gupta, the former head of the division under Barack Obama and president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said in a statement.

The memo was circulated among lawyers in the Civil Rights Division once headed by Gupta. 
According to the Washington Post, those career employees, experts in education, “refused to work on the project out of concerns it was contrary to the office’s long-running approach to civil rights in education opportunities.”

Like the RAISE act, this move against affirmative action, is red meat for Trump's base. According to polls taken after the election, a majority of Trump's white supporters felt that they were victims of discrimination.

Both issues will will be major tests for The Resistance because immigration and affirmative action affect people of color, will the white protestors who marched and attended town halls, join in the fight against these policies? Will white women and environmentalists march and protest as vigorously for affirmative action and against the RAISE act as they have since Trump's inauguration?

The issues could also separate immigrant communities of Asians and Latinos from the African/American community, natural allies on other issues. In particular, Asian/Americans and the model minority myth can be used as a wedge to build resentment against AAPI people by Latinos and African/Americans seeking greater admission rates to college.

By raising affirmative action and immigration at this time, the Trump and his people may be hoping to counter the negative news surrounding this administration, which hasn't passed a major piece of legislation in the seven months it has been in power.

In a statement, the Asian Americans Advancing Justice, a coalition of five legal aid agencies, warned against Trump's and the Republican's strategy of divide and conquer:

"Since the new administration has been in office, it has been moving very deliberately to operationalize its nativist agenda with policies like this one. Instead of attacking affirmative action programs, the Trump administration should use its platform to increase opportunities for all students while continuing to address the persistent equity gaps for low-income students and students of color. We support affirmative action and refuse to allow Asian Americans to be used as a wedge between communities of color.”