BY KEN MOCHIZUKI
Bettie Luke, office and project manager of the Organization of Chinese Americans (OCA) Greater Seattle Chapter, said there had been a “growing awareness” within OCA of an “increasing influx of professionals from other countries.”
“Very few knew they had civil rights,” she said.
To address that situation, OCA has been holding informational workshops such as the “Legal Awareness Workshop for Chinese & Asian Americans: Know Your Rights, a Workshop to Discuss Current Trends in the American Legal System Faced by Asian Americans and Immigrants.” The workshop was held on Saturday, Oct. 28 at the legal offices of Stafford Frey Cooper in downtown Seattle.
Lorraine Bannai, professor at the Seattle University School of Law, delved into how civil rights were lost during the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. “The U.S. Supreme Court deferred to Congress and the president,” she said. As for the present war on terrorism, she asked of Americans’ civil rights: “How much sacrifice is necessary? Are we creating a country we’re not proud of? And whose rights are being sacrificed? People less able to protect themselves. Beware of your own rights and the rights of others.”
Kim Tran, Stafford Frey Cooper litigation attorney with a focus on employment law and president of the Asian Bar Association of Washington, detailed an individual’s employment rights. During the job interview, if asked, “Are you married?” or “Do you plan on starting a family?” the interviewee has the right to respond, “I don’t know if that’s appropriate for the job I’m seeking,” Tran said. If there is drug testing, is it for everybody? “At Will Employment” – the employer’s right to terminate any employee at any time – is legal, Tran said, unless there is a previous employee agreement stating that the employer cannot, or if the termination involved discrimination or harassment.
Washington state law requires a reason to be given for termination, Tran said. However, was the fired employee treated differently than the other employees? She advised reading the “employee handbook” carefully and to know the company rules on discipline and sick leave – caring for a sick family member is regarded as “sick leave.” If there is a “hostile work environment” and the hostility is directed at a member of a “protected class” (which includes gender, race, religion, national origin, age and disability), the incident “has to be reported,” Tran said. What did the manager do about the incident? Who do you report to if your supervisor is doing the harassing? Keep a written record, she advised.
For disabled employees, they cannot be forced to work past limits imposed by a doctor’s order. All employees have the right to inspect their personal files, she said, and all employees have the right to receive their last check. If an employer refuses, the former employee can be awarded “double damages and attorney fees,” said Tran.
And, when using office e-mail, always do so “as if the boss is reading it,” she said.
George Cheung, CEO of Lopez and Cheung Public Affairs Consulting and coordinator for From Hate to Hope, a coalition working to defeat anti-immigration ballot measures in Washington State, focused on “Section 203” of the Voting Rights Act.
Section 203 “looks at the demographics of a county” and the population of minority groups. After the 2000 Census, “Chinese language protections” are in effect in King County, requiring ballots to also be in Chinese, Cheung said. “Spanish assistance” is also required in several central Washington counties, he said. And with Section 203, there have been “over 1,000 Chinese permanent absentee ballot requests.”
However, the Voting Rights Act is a “sunset law,” requiring reauthorization by Congress every 25 years, Cheung said. Congress did vote to reauthorize the Act this year. State Rep. Bob Hasegawa of Seattle has introduced legislation to make Section 203 a permanent state law. The Washington State House of Representative is now studying the measure. Voters do have the right to “take a translator into the voting booth,” he said.
Cheung also manages APIAVote, a voter registration and education drive. He said the campaign will “focus on educating over 8,000 infrequent API voters [those skipping presidential elections] on voting rights and ballot measures.” He said that will be accomplished by “robo call,” mailings and “live calls” (see related article).
A future challenge for API voters will include increasing language assistance for Chinese language voters when the “all-vote-by-mail” system takes effect in the future, Cheung said. Another is that the conservative think tank Evergreen Freedom Foundation will place on the ballot a measure to force “re-registration” of all state voters, requiring proof of U.S. citizenship. Why are some state groups trying to prevent immigrants from voting, when “we can’t get enough of our own citizens to vote,” he asked.
And then there is the issue of legislative re-districting. Cheung showed statistics that the APIs in the 8th Congressional District (83,720) will surpass APIs in the 7th District (87,967) by 2010. If re-districting combines areas of the present 7th and 8th Districts with heavy API concentration – south Seattle, Bellevue’s Lake Hills area and Newcastle – API candidates would stand a good chance of being elected, he said.
Ye-Ting Woo, deputy supervisor of the Criminal Enterprise Unit at the United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Washington, prosecutes those involved in human trafficking and smuggling. “Trafficking” is defined as “exploitation of a person for labor or commercial sex,” Woo said. A person’s involvement in trafficking would have to be involuntary, and that person is “viewed as a victim in the eyes of U.S. law.” A trafficking victim can stay in the United States under a “T-visa.”
“Smuggling,” Woo said, is defined as entering “into an agreement with the smuggler” and that person is “viewed as a lawbreaker in the eyes of U.S. law.” The definition of smuggling also includes “transnational physical movement.”
Woo said that when an immigrant overstays in the United States past the time granted in a visa becomes an “illegal immigrant,” and those who overstay and also commit a crime “usually get caught that way,” she said.
Luke said most overstays on the U.S. East Coast are committed by immigrants from Ireland. Workshop participants added that Canadians often also overstay, yet they are not widely known as illegal immigrants.
“There are assumptions about our culture,” Woo said, adding that Asians and South Asians are often under more immigration status scrutiny than other racial groups. She said that, to protect the rights of Chinese Americans, invite Chinese American law enforcement officials to speak at business and community events; be vocal; employ immigrant Chinese and “ensure their legal status”; and pay legal wages to these immigrants and ensure legal working conditions. If their legal status is in jeopardy, seek assistance from bar associations, immigrant rights agencies or law firms specializing in immigration.