FAIR! organizing director Marissa Vichayapai (left) provides information at UW’s Undocu-Institutions Coming Out Day about the lack of services for undocumented APIs and what people can do to help. • Courtesy Photo
FAIR! organizing director Marissa Vichayapai (left) provides information at UW’s Undocu-Institutions Coming Out Day about the lack of services for undocumented APIs and what people can do to help. • Courtesy Photo

In an effort to engage the API community on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) legislation and open a dialogue on the undocumented API experience, the nonprofit 21 Progress recently launched a new campaign called FAIR!, or Fearless Asians for Immigration Reform. In the last 3 months, they’ve done outreach throughout Washington State reaching close to 1,000 community members impacted by the issue, but they need more support.

FAIR! uses a three-pronged approach to address immigration reform for the API community. First, it focuses on raising the awareness and consciousness of the community. FAIR! provides trainings, workshops, and info sessions to human service providers, schools, student groups, religious leaders, and the undocumented community.

Second, FAIR! engages the community to support the undocumented API immigration movement by letting supporters and applicants know how they can take action. The campaign also connects undocumented APIs with each other, to strengthen their voice and the movement.

And lastly, FAIR! provides undocumented APIs with free personalized, culturally competent DACA related immigration services, such as screenings for eligibility. The campaign also connects them to free immigration attorneys, financial assistance for their DACA application fee, and anything else they might need.

Marissa Vichayapai is 21 Progress’ Asian & Pacific Islander DACA WA State Coordinator and FAIR! Organizing Director. She spoke with the International Examiner about how the API community needs to bring to the forefront a dialogue on DACA and undocumented APIs.

International Examiner: Much of the dialogue on undocumented immigrants focuses on the Latino experience. According to the Department of Homeland Security, 1.3 million undocumented immigrants are from Asia. Why is there not enough dialogue on undocumented APIs?

Marissa Vichayapai: Latinos still make up the majority of the undocumented community so by that fact alone their voice is naturally going to be larger. But, even though APIs make up 18 percent of the undocumented community, there are additional barriers. One in particular is that social stigma makes it difficult for members in the community to come out of the shadows and into the public.

This social stigma is also that much heavier with the model minority stereotype. If you don’t fit this stereotype, you look around and start to think you’re the reason why you’re not able to do well. Therefore, aside from a few individuals like Jose Antonio Vargas, there have been few API spokespeople. Without someone to humanize the issue, it becomes much harder to write a story.

All these things together [make it] hard to find someone in the community who is willing to expose themselves by revealing their status, and risking their and their family’s safety.

That’s part of the work of FAIR!—Fearless Asians. There was a lot of intention when choosing the word “Fearless.” It’s not a state that the community is at yet. But it is a hope, an aspiration, and a vision of what we want the undocumented API community to someday be. Fearless enough to look past the shame and stigma. Fearless enough to reclaim their voice, speaking loudly and confidently for their human right to migrate and to continue residing in and contributing to the U.S.

So far, I’ve been working with exceptional youth college groups like Asian Coalition for Equality (ACE), and local organizations like ACRS, CISC, and NWIRP, but we need more people to join us in this conversation and not let the social stigma stop us.

IE: Do you think the experiences of undocumented Asian and Pacific Islanders are even less exposed? What obstacles do undocumented Asian and Pacific Islanders face?

Vichayapai: Yes. Compared to the Latino community, APIs are less willing to share their experience but more importantly, they have had less opportunity or engagement around this issue. This is unfortunate because there are many rich and diverse stories to be highlighted. The experiences of the [undocumented] API community are different from the Latino narrative. Further, there is also a lot of diversity within the Pan-Asian experience. Naturally, it makes it more difficult to accurately and respectfully capture all the experiences of the undocumented community at large.

Undocumented APIs face many various obstacles. Aside from the social and cultural stigma about their status, for undocumented APIs there are usually more avenues within the immigration system for them to navigate. The journey into the U.S. [for APIs] is much more diverse—some entering by way of various visas, some are forced to migrate as a means to escape poverty, political instability, civil war, natural disasters, fear of political or religious persecution, others are trafficked against their will, etc.

Once in the U.S., generally speaking, undocumented APIs have more social capital than Latinos. [Many APIs have the opportunity to find jobs in Chinatown, Little Saigon, or other ethnic enclaves] where APIs are working in and for API-owned businesses.

Even though DACA provides deportation relief, work authorization, college scholarships, and in-state tuition, APIs are still reluctant to apply. Many don’t know the program is even available to them—or the many benefits it offers. For those who do know, some choose not to apply because there is distrust in government systems and applying for DACA is seen as risky. For most, being sent to their native countries means crossing an entire ocean, the journey is longer, and definitely dangerous. Thus, it seems reasonable to maintain their undocumented status—even if that means living in fear of deportation and being separated from loved ones.

IE: What needs to happen in order for the API community to begin talking more openly about DACA?

Vichayapai: I think we (both the API community and those who serve the API community) need to start providing more services. We need to offer in-language DACA legal clinics and info sessions. Human service organizations need to be sure their staff are aware of the statistics, know the signs, and can deliver culturally competent advice about DACA and whether or not to apply. We also need to practice talking about tough issues, to shed light on the shame and reduce our need to hide it away.

The FAIR! campaign is willing to work with community members at churches, schools, nonprofits, or even in your neighborhood. If someone wants to talk or work on this issue they can call or text (206) 578-1255.

IE: How did helping undocumented immigrants become a priority for 21 Progress?

Vichayapai: About a year after we launched the DACA application loan program, we noticed that mostly all, with the exception of a few, of the families who were coming in were of Latino descent. But we knew that there were undocumented APIs in the community, so there could only be a few explanations. (1) They were applying for DACA, but they didn’t need a loan; (2) they weren’t applying for DACA all together; or (3) there were not as many undocumented APIs as we thought. We did some light research around this, and at the same time [Migration Policy Institute]  released its findings about DACA at the Two Year Mark and we discovered that (1) there are a large number of undocumented APIs, and (2) they were not applying for DACA.

Seeing this need, and the complex issues in the community, I believe that we can solve this issue together. I’m asking the people who read this article reach out to us directly by calling (206) 578-1255 or emailing [email protected]. All conversations are professional and confidential.  This is a tremendous challenge, but I am hopeful and confident that our community will step up on this issue.

For more information, visit itshouldbefair.com, www.facebook.com/itshouldbefair, or call (206) 578-1255. FAIR!’s Line ID: itshouldbefair.

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