Commentary: Where are Asian Americans in the Immigration Reform Debate?

Seventy-seven percent of Asian Americans polled voted for President Obama. (Photo: Flickr/keithpr)

Last Tuesday, U.S. Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) along with five other members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus met with White House officials who assured the contingent that the Obama administration is moving forward with immigration reform.

“We talked about what the president wants and what his vision is,” Gutierrez told BuzzFeed. “And I gotta tell you, we’re in a good place.”

It’s interesting that no one from the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus was invited to this meeting. Then again, this shouldn’t be a surprise. Most people see immigration as a “Latino issue” and there are more Latino votes to be had than Asian votes. Nonetheless, 2012 witnessed the rise of a small but no less important electorate which helped re-elect President Obama and many other officials.

Yesterday, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) released detailed findings from its exit poll of Asian American voters in the November 2012 election. Unlike most exit polls, the AALDEF survey was conducted in various Asian languages, capturing responses that would have been missed by English-only polls.

Contrary to pre-2012 thinking, Asian Americans are not that conservative. Fifty-seven percent of those polled said they were Democrats and only 14 percent identified as Republicans. Seventy-seven percent voted for President Obama and only 21 percent supported Governor Romney.

But where do they stand on immigration? When the 9,000 plus Asian American voters were asked if they supported comprehensive reform which includes a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants, 65 percent said ‘yes.’ Only 14 percent said they opposed such a measure. Seventy-three percent of Democrats and fifty-three percent of Republicans said they support a path to citizenship.

Just like Latinos, Asian Americans have family members, friends and neighbors who are without papers. It is estimated that 11 percent of all unauthorized people in the United States are Asian. A majority of Asians are first generation immigrants who are greatly affected by the inadequacies of our immigration system. Asian immigrants are among those who wait the longest – up to two decades – to be reunited with their loved ones because of immigration backlogs. Highly educated and skilled Asian immigrants can wait up to six years before earning a green card.

While the president has vowed to push for comprehensive immigration reform this year and Republicans are starting to line up behind Senator Marco Rubio’s (R-FL) copycat immigration reform plan, there are those who vehemently oppose any measures beyond unnecessary and inordinate enforcement. Pro-immigration forces need to rally to ensure that legislation which includes a path to citizenship is passed once and for all. This includes Asian Americans who have proven themselves indispensable to any political victory.

Fi2W is supported by the David and Katherine Moore Family Foundation and the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation.

AboutErwin de Leon
Erwin de Leon is a Policy Researcher and writer based in Washington, DC. He writes on immigration, LGBT, and nonprofit issues. You can follow him on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.