Our Families, Our Voices: Why We Need Immigration Reform

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This year, we have an unprecedented opportunity to enact comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) policies that our country and families need. NAKASEC is continuing its long history of organizing and advocacy to impact the CIR debate and strengthen our movement by uplifting the voices of Korean American and Asian American communities across the country.

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This report highlights the consequences of a broken immigration system on Korean American and Asian American families, brings to light the significant role of the Asian American vote during the pivotal 2012 Elections and outlines what is ahead in our efforts to enact CIR. Throughout, we will share stories from community members who inspire and push to seek a brighter future for all Americans.

[edit] Executive Summary

For the first time in many years, we have an opportunity to create a common sense immigration process. There is an unprecedented consensus among policymakers and the American public alike that something must be done to address a badly broken system. As an immigrant community, Korean Americans and Asian Americans are carefully watching how these debates take shape.

Korean American families have been deeply impacted by inhumane immigration laws: one in seven are undocumented immigrants who fear separation from their families through deportation; many work in low-wage jobs; young people are unsure of their futures; and tens of thousands are stuck in immigration backlogs waiting years to reunite with family in the US.

But Korean Americans, through the efforts of NAKASEC, have not been silent in the face of injustice. Since our founding in 1994, in the midst of an anti-immigrant wave in California and nationally, NAKASEC has sought to empower our communities in order to build a more just and vibrant future for all Americans. Korean Americans, standing alongside other immigrant, labor and civil rights communities, have helped to shape the national narrative of a diverse movement that has grown in power, sophistication and numbers.

Our community’s presence in the immigration debate is even more significant as we examine the demographic transformation happening in the US. Asian Americans are part of the driving force in a nation that will be majority-minority by 2043, growing at a rate four times faster than the rest of the population. We are building communities alongside African American and Latino populations in the South while maintaining consistent growth in the traditional immigrant gateways of New York and California.

With this demographic shift comes the emergence of a powerful electoral power. The Asian American, Latino and African American vote are part of the “Rising American Electorate (RAE)”– an emerging political majority with the ability to make waves at the local, state and federal levels. Its power was showcased during the 2012 elections: as overall voter turnout dropped significantly from 2008 to 2012, the turnout of RAE voters held steady or increased. Their participation helped to secure a victory for President Barack Obama over Governor Mitt Romney.

The most unexpected story of the 2012 elections was the Asian American vote. From 2008 to 2012, Asian Americans experienced a substantial uptick in voter turnout. In 2012, it is estimated that 3.2 million Asian American voters cast their ballots resulting in a 55% turnout compared to 47% four years earlier. Our power will only increase in size and in share of the overall electorate with continued naturalization and voter registration efforts. Policy makers, candidates and the broader American public have woken up to the reality that Asian American voices cannot be ignored. Among Korean American and Asian American voters, immigration is ranked one of the most important issues facing our community today, along with the economy, health care and education. Voters who ranked immigration as their top concern voted overwhelmingly for incumbent President Barack Obama over Governor Mitt Romney 73% to 26%.

As the debate for immigration reform heats up, NAKASEC will be organizing and mobilizing Korean American and Asian American families to raise their voices for an immigration system that works for families. We will demand an immigration system that:

  • Provides a meaningful path to citizenship that is clear, direct and inclusive for millions of undocumented immigrants and their families.
  • Keeps all families together by preserving the family immigration system and eliminating the immigration backlogs.
  • Protects all workers regardless of their immigration status.
  • Stops mandatory and indefinite detentions and cruel deportations for minor infractions that separates families and protects and restores basic rights and liberties, including allowing every person to have their day in court.
  • Promotes the social, economic and political integration of immigrants and their children.

[edit] Acknowledgements

In producing this report, we thank the community members who shared their stories, inspire us and push to fight for a brighter future for all Americans. A special thanks to Sookyung Oh for her research assistance and information design.

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