As millions of undocumented immigrants await the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on United States v. Texas, organizations like 21 Progress are continuing to provide support to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) eligible youth and families. The International Examiner caught up with Marissa Vichayapai, 21 Progress’ Asian & Pacific Islander DACA WA State Coordinator and FAIR! Organizing Director, to talk about the work that is being done for undocumented API immigrants.
International Examiner: So many people who were putting their faith in the implementation of the expanded Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) initiatives are waiting in limbo for the U.S. Supreme Court decision in April. What do people need to know about this decision and its ramifications, particularly for the API community?
Marissa Vichayapai: To give some additional information, expanded DACA and DAPA, are two proposed federal programs that were scheduled to launch in February 2015. However, an anti-immigrant judge from Texas claimed that DACA and DAPA are unconstitutional and a burden to their state. This judge then filed a lawsuit. Decisions from that lawsuit are still pending the U.S. Supreme Court’s Ruling. If passed, expanded DACA and DAPA would allow approximately 4.9 million eligible undocumented immigrants temporary protection from deportation along with other similar benefits as the current DACA program.
For the API community, being able to enroll in a program like expanded DACA and DAPA is one that affects many individuals. According to Professor Wong’s 2014 findings, 40% of the undocumented individuals residing in Washington State are eligible for either the DACA or DAPA programs. Furthermore, of that eligible population, 75% would be eligible for DAPA while 25% are eligible for DACA. So, if the Supreme Court fails to rule in favor of the DAPA program, this would mean that the majority of the undocumented eligible community would remain without protection and access to resources they need and deserve.
Additionally, mixed status families continue live with real threats to their safety and livelihood, one of which is the threat to their family unit. Without protection for all members of the family, the children of DAPA eligible parents risk growing up without their mothers and fathers. This fear is rooted in an ever-increasing reality as deportation and removals of undocumented immigrants have been on the rise.
IE: What kind of work has FAIR! been doing to get folks ready for the decision?
MV: There have been a few different efforts, but first and foremost, people need to know that DAPA is a resource that is available to undocumented immigrants. Due to inaccurate perceptions of the DAPA and DACA programs and lack of access to in-language materials, the work requires bringing a higher level of exposure and discussion to the rights and resources for undocumented APIs. By highlighting and talking about this issue, through workshops and trainings with API serving organizations, we have faith the information about these resources will make its way to the people who are in most need.
We also find opportunities to bring this message to a diversity of spaces by partnering with different organizations within Washington State. For example, this coming May 12 and May 13, 21 Progress is partnering with University of Washington’s Leadership Without Borders student group to host a speaking event and lunch with Ju Hong, an undocumented Korean-American Activist. We’re expecting the event to be a huge turnout for younger, college-aged APIs, who wouldn’t likely be eligible for DAPA, but their parents or other elders in their life might.
We have a team of community ambassadors who prepare and inform DAPA eligible participants of the resources available to them. Through grassroots organizing, ambassadors do the essential work of identifying undocumented eligible API people, by screening them for the DAPA, expanded DACA, and DACA programs. Once people have been screened and they know their rights, ambassadors then help the eligible community prepare for their application by assisting them in gathering evidence for their application and encouraging them to save money.
Also in the meantime, we’ve set up a social support group so that undocumented APIs have safe spaces to get together in community. It’s called Community Across Borders and some of these meetings include a Potluck, Meet & Greet on Saturday, April 9 from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and Dinner & Storytelling on Tuesday, April 19 from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Additionally there is the May Day Prep & March on Sunday, May 1 (time to be determined) and a Lunch & Film Screening on Saturday, May 21 from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. The meetings will all be located at 21 Progress on 409 Maynard Avenue S. Suite 202, Seattle, WA. Please RSVP by calling (206) 829-8382. For undocumented APIs, we’d really love to see them there as it is a great opportunity to come meet people who are going through similar challenges and build a community.
IE: What’s been the thoughts and feelings of the undocumented individuals with whom 21 Progress has been working?
MV: For over a year now, people have been waiting for this program to start enrolling eligible participants. Within this time, there have been multiple setbacks, and with each comes disappointment and frustration. For many, DAPA represents hope, justice, and a little reprieve. It’s frustrating when access to those resources are so close, but still not within reach. However, alongside that frustration there is still hope and continued determination within the community. Generally speaking, this is a community that believes in the American Dream, and the rewards that come from hard work, dedication, and contribution. So for those who have been living and contributing to the American economy for over 20+ years, they’re going to continue doing what they have been doing—with or without DAPA.
For some families, they’re searching for alternative solutions and looking for other programs that might offer the same type of benefits. Unfortunately, there are individuals within the community who advantageously offer services or programs meant to deceive people and take their money. We’re here as an organization to help individuals avoid scams. The Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP) has also been an incredible partner and source of support for undocumented individuals. Through their services, a participant can sign up for a full screening from NWIRP to identify which, if any, federal programs they are eligible for. To make an appointment, I recommend folks visit www.NWIRP.org.
Of course, not all API families feel this way. There is so much diversity and with that comes multiple perspectives on this issue. The above are just a couple notable trends.
IE: In your work with 21 Progress over the past year, what’s a great lesson that you’ve learned that you could share with other organizers or people work in the API community?
MV: For folks who are serving APIs, I would say that the greatest lesson is to, first, not make assumptions. Don’t let the stereotypes and current (in)visibility of the undocumented API community convince you into thinking that this issue doesn’t affect the API community. Undocumented API immigrants are with us. They don’t just work in the back of busy restaurants, or live for the mere duty of sending money back home. Rather, undocumented APIs are also high school and university students who are active in their student body or on their college campuses. They may already be or are aspiring to be lawyers, athletes, nurses, teachers, biochemists, programmers, mental health therapist, homecare workers, and entrepreneurs. They have rich social ties to our Seattle and Greater-Seattle community, care deeply, and take pride in being Asian-American. People who serve, must normalize and destigmatize this issue so that discussions about status become less polarized. By acknowledging that different statuses may exist but choosing to not define someone by it, one can help to build a community that is more understanding and accepting of others’ differences.
The second lesson is to lean into the uncomfortable conversations that is needed to address this tabooed issue. By challenging the stereotypes of APIs and changing the narrative to include undocumented APIs in our community, we have the potential to achieve greater inclusion and a healthier community as a result.
IE: Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
If you know someone who is API and might be undocumented, encouraged them to get screened. Contact FAIR! at (206) 829-8382 or [email protected] and start working on your application today. By contacting us, we are able to connect people to legal services, financial assistance, and social supports.
We’re also starting a new program within the FAIR! campaign called Community Across Borders. This program aims to provide a space for Undocumented Asians and Pacific Islanders to build community.
For more information on upcoming events, visit 21progress.org.