More Work Needed to Increase DACA Applications from AAPIs

The unauthorized Asian American and Pacific Islander community in the US is large and diverse, and it is imperative that these immigrants’ stories, struggles, and aspirations are met with concern and resources.

Posted on 06/22/16
(Photo by Steve Rhodes, Creative Commons License)
(Photo by Steve Rhodes, Creative Commons License)

This month marks the fourth anniversary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, initiative, which grants a temporary reprieve from deportation and the opportunity to request work authorization to eligible people who came to the United States before age 16. Since 2012, 728,000 young unauthorized immigrants have received DACA.


The Asian American and Pacific Islander, or AAPI, community is the fastest growing racial group in the United States today. There are an estimated 1.5 million unauthorized AAPI immigrants in the country, 169,000 of whom are eligible for original or expanded DACA. According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services data, however, only about 18,000 people from the top four Asian countries of origin—South Korea, the Philippines, India, and Pakistan—have applied. A little more than 16,000 of them have been approved.


Not only is there a lower number of DACA-eligible AAPI immigrants overall, but the percentage of those who have applied for DACA also is significantly lower than that of Latin American immigrants. The Migration Policy Institute estimates that there were 44,000 DACA-eligible immigrants from South Korea upon the program’s launch in August 2012, an estimated 9,114 of whom had applied as of March 2016. This is a mere 21 percent application rate, and it has not changed much since last year. This pales in comparison to the estimated 703,000 DACA-eligible Mexican immigrants since August 2012, roughly 634,000 of whom have applied since March 2016. This is a 91 percent application rate and an increase of approximately 4 percent since 2015.*

DACA applications, Mexicans vs. South Koreans

Since 2012, AAPI immigration organizations have increased outreach to the AAPI community by creating various DACA-focused programs to help them overcome barriers when accessing DACA. Although these efforts have resulted in some applications, more research and outreach are needed.


Challenges to applying

AAPI immigrants face challenges similar to those of other immigrants when applying for DACA, including high application fees; difficulty obtaining required documents, such as birth certificates; and fear of deportation for themselves and their families. But they also face three unique challenges: lack of language assistance, stigma and shame related to their legal status, and isolation from the larger immigrant community.


AAPIs speak more than 300 different languages and represent 48 different ethnicities, which makes it difficult to obtain language-appropriate documents to assist with applications. Asian American households also have the highest rate of limited English proficiency, and many are considered “linguistically isolated,” meaning that no one in their household above age 14 speaks English “very well.”


Furthermore, being unauthorized holds a cultural stigma for many Asian Americans. According to Emily Ryo, researcher and professor of immigration law at Stanford Law School, having no documentation and being referred to as “illegal immigrants” holds greater stigma and family shame for Asian Americans than other immigrant groups. For instance, similar to other immigrants, many Asians move to the United States in pursuit of a better education and professional growth. However, many of them are unaware of their unauthorized status. Upon learning about their status and the barriers in achieving their goals, they experience a heightened sense of shame and stigma. Consequently, family members often encourage unauthorized AAPI immigrants to hide their status.


This isolation from the larger immigrant community further compounds barriers to DACA application. The U.S. public and media mainly see immigration as a Latino or Mexican issue, especially with regard to the unauthorized population. Consequently, AAPIs are often left out of the larger debate, even given their growing numbers.


AAPI groups step up their outreach

Considering these unique barriers to accessing DACA, AAPI-specific organizations have worked to increase their outreach efforts. For instance, after the announcement of DACA, organizations such as Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles and the National Korean American Service & Education Consortium, or NAKASEC, joined with the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund and South Asian Americans Leading Together to form the AAPI DACA Collaborative. The collaborative addresses the unique needs of the unauthorized AAPI community and their families. It provides language assistance in a number of Asian languages, including Chinese, Khmer, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, and other South Asian languages. It also conducts informational clinics for families and individuals, as well as consultations and documentation processing. Since its implementation, DACA has successfully helped thousands of young AAPIs, and it continues to help even more. From November 2013 to June 2014, more than 2,500 AAPIs were served.


Additionally, to help unauthorized AAPI immigrants overcome their isolation and loneliness, 21 Progress, an organization that works to secure rights for immigrant youth and families, launched a project in Washington state in 2012 called Fearless Asians for Immigration Reform, or FAIR. This project provides a space for unauthorized AAPI immigrants to talk about their status without shame and aims to increase DACA application rates. It also provides trainings, workshops, and DACA resources for teachers, students, human service agencies, and faith-based organizations to help alleviate fear and seclusion.


Earlier this year, NAKASEC—in collaboration with the Service Employees International Union, the Fair Immigration Reform Movement, and the Center for Community Change—launched a DACA video tour. The tour screens two documentaries that feature unauthorized immigrants’ personal stories, including those of two AAPI community leaders. The videos are being shared with AAPI communities nationwide with the goals of helping educate them on DACA programs and mitigating the shame and stigma of being unauthorized. Such efforts could result in higher rates of AAPI DACA application.


These outreach efforts also could help implement DAPA and expanded DACA

In November 2014, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced additional executive actions on immigration, including Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA, and an expansion of DACA. Although these initiatives have been blocked while millions of immigrants wait for the U.S. Supreme Court to make its decisionUnited States v. Texas, an estimated 462,000 unauthorized AAPI immigrants are believed to be eligible for temporary relief from deportation under DAPA alone.



Although organizations are working to increase the number of AAPI DACA applications, there has not been a significant uptick. Additional research is still needed on how to engage with the AAPI community and track the most effective strategies. Nonetheless, current organizational efforts can serve as examples for outreach to DAPA-eligible parents of authorized AAPIs. For instance, FAIR expanded its work on DACA with other AAPI-serving organizations in Washington state to include DAPA and expanded DACA. It conducts trainings and workshops that educate unauthorized AAPIs on the significance of applying for deferred action, while recognizing their unique barriers.


The unauthorized AAPI community in the United States is large and diverse, and it is imperative that these immigrants’ stories, struggles, and aspirations are met with concern and resources. Although organizations already are working at the local and national levels to engage DACA-eligible AAPI immigrants, still more outreach is needed to assist immigrants and their families.


* Note: The Migration Policy Institute’s most recent estimate of the DACA-eligible population uses data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s pooled 2009–2013 American Community Survey and does not include those who may have become eligible since then based on education or age.

Sanam M. Malik is a Research Assistant for the Immigration Policy team at the Center for American Progress.


This article first appeared at the Center for American Progress. Click here to go to the original.

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