Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Blog

  • AAPI DREAM Riders Inspire

    Ed Note: This is a cross post from Homeroom, the official blog of the Department of Education. You can find the original link here.

    Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to meet with a group of young people who are mounting an inspiring fight to overcome barriers and make this country stronger. They are called the DREAM Riders, and they are taking their vital message to the entire country.

    Secretary Duncan meets with DREAM Riders

    Secretary Duncan meets with DREAM Riders (Photo Courtesy of the Department of Education)

    The DREAM Riders are a group of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) who have been granted deferred action through the Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. What that means is that, for certain young people who came to the United States as children, the government has deferred action that would remove them from the country, and given them authorization for employment.

    These young people, along with student supporters, are kicking off the DREAM Riders Tour. This tour will take them all over the country with stops in Washington, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, and California, among others. The group plans to rally local AAPI youth and students around the need for Congress to pass commonsense immigration reform and lay the foundation for relationships and future collaboration with local organizations and leaders.

    I was inspired by the stories of the DREAM Riders and their friends and family— stories often rooted in hardship and heartbreak as their parents strive to make ends meet — stories of success and struggle as they try to obtain the best education that our country has to offer.

    The DREAM Riders and I discussed the significance of a meaningful pathway to earned citizenship for undocumented individuals and our collective efforts to ensure passage of commonsense immigration reform. The Senate has passed this legislation in a strong bipartisan vote for legislation in the Senate, but the House of Representatives has not yet taken action.

    AAPI communities and families have a huge stake in this debate. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, approximately 1.1 million individuals of Asian descent are undocumented. According to the Department of State, approximately 2 million individuals of Asian descent are currently waiting abroad to reunite with their families in America.

    The future of our country and our economy brightens tremendously under the provisions of this legislation. Earlier this month, the White House released a report highlighting the numerous and varied economic benefits of fixing our broken immigration system, including helping to grow our economy by creating new business and jobs. And according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, the Senate’s bipartisan immigration reform bill will increase the nation’s GDP 3.3 percent by 2023 and 5.4 percent by 2033. We should not underestimate the economic value of hard-working AAPI immigrant and refugee families: many AAPI immigrants start their journey in the United States as small business owners, investors, and entrepreneurs.

    The efforts of these AAPI DREAM Riders will significantly impact younger generations in their communities. I wish these young advocates the best of luck on their upcoming tour and commend their efforts to ensure that the collective voices of their communities are heard.

    Arne Duncan is the Secretary of Education.

  • President Obama Meets with Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus

    Last week, President Obama met with members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) at the White House to discuss a range of important issues facing the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities.  The President thanked CAPAC for their work to expand the middle class within AAPI communities and among all Americans, and said that he looks forward to continuing to work with them.

    President Obama Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus

    President Barack Obama meets with the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus in Room 350 of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, July 23, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

    The President stressed that the Administration continues to urge the House to take action to pass commonsense immigration reform that would secure our borders, crack down on illegal employment, offer a path to earned citizenship for undocumented persons, and modernize our legal immigration system so that it once again addresses our needs and reflects our values as a nation.  He thanked CAPAC for their ongoing efforts on this important issue and both sides agreed on the need to pass immigration reform now to help grow the economy, create jobs and reduce the deficit.  The President urged CAPAC to continue to reach out to their colleagues in the House to find consensus and complete work on this important issue at the earliest possible opportunity.  In the coming weeks, members of the Cabinet and Senior Administration officials will stress the economic need for commonsense immigration reform, including highlighting the economic benefits of reform and the high costs of inaction.

    The President also said that he was proud of his efforts to make the Executive Branch and the federal judiciary more diverse.  CAPAC thanked the President for more than doubling the number of AAPI federal judges currently serving.   The President reiterated his commitment to ensuring that his Administration is composed of highly qualified public servants who reflect the diversity of America.  CAPAC also thanked the President for the ongoing work of the White House Initiative on AAPIs to better connect AAPI communities to the federal government. 

    The President also thanked CAPAC for their strong support in passing the Affordable Care Act and discussed the robust ongoing efforts to successfully implement the law.  Starting in 2014 nearly 2 million uninsured AAPIs will have new opportunities for coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace.   And, increased funding to community health centers is enabling more AAPIs to receive culturally and linguistically appropriate and accessible care.  The President and CAPAC pledged to work together to ensure that all qualified individuals are able to sign up for the Health Insurance Marketplace.

    The President was joined at the meeting by Office of Legislative Affairs Director Miguel Rodriguez, Director of Presidential Personnel Jonathan McBride, and Executive Director of the White House Initiative on AAPIs Kiran Ahuja.

    Gautam Raghavan is an Advisor in the White House Office of Public Engagement.

  • Celebrating Forty Years of Advancing AAPI Issues

    Tina Tchen delivers remarks at the OCA National 40th Anniversary National Convention

    Tina Tchen delivers remarks at the OCA National 40th Anniversary National Convention in Washington, D.C., Saturday, July 20, 2013 (Photo by Rui Barros Photography, courtesy of OCA National)

    Since 1973, OCA has brought together diverse and far reaching communities for a common cause: to advance the social, political, and economic wellbeing of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) in the United States. Last week, I had the honor of addressing OCA at its 40th Anniversary Gala in Washington, D.C. and paying tribute to the organization’s history and legacy. OCA’s many accomplishments over the last forty years are a reminder that, individually, our voices are often swept into the wind, but when we speak together our words have the power to move mountains.

    Even as we celebrate this milestone anniversary, we are reminded that important work remains to be done. AAPIs have prospered in this country as a direct result of our nation’s immigration system; but, as we know all too well, the system is broken and needs reform. The reform plan passed by the Senate modernizes the immigration system, secures the border, streamlines the process to citizenship, and is projected to add $1.4 trillion to our economy. AAPI immigrant entrepreneurs, small business owners, families, and leaders are key contributors to our nation’s future and growth. In the coming weeks and months, community leaders across the country have an opportunity to use their combined voices to raise awareness about the importance of commonsense immigration reform and the impact it will have on the AAPI community. 

    Our work does not end at immigration reform. One in five AAPIs lacks health insurance. AAPIs are also more likely to suffer from chronic diseases, but the least likely to seek the necessary preventative care. On October 1st, individuals, families, and businesses will have a one-stop shop to buy affordable health coverage. If all goes well, an estimated 2 million uninsured Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders will be able to access the care they need. Through the implementation plan, we will once again call upon leaders in the community, like OCA, to build knowledge and raise awareness in the community about the host of resources available on

    OCA’s 40-year story reminds us that if AAPIs continue to raise their voices and continue to strive for prosperity, we will succeed, and the landscape of the community will be forever altered.

    Tina Tchen is Assistant to the President, Chief of Staff to First Lady Michelle Obama, and Executive Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls.

  • Growth and Promise in Gwinnett County, Georgia

    Kiran Ahuja chats on-air with Atlanta Radio Korea host Kevin Kim

    White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Executive Director Kiran Ahuja chats on-air with Atlanta Radio Korea host Kevin Kim (Photo courtesy Bonnie Youn)

    As Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, it is heartening to see progress in Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities, and especially inspiring to see community growth and leadership in my home state of Georgia. In a recent visit to Gwinnett County, I had the opportunity to meet with elected officials and AAPI leaders to learn about Georgia’s rapidly growing AAPI population, including nearly 13% in Gwinnett County, and how public officials and community leaders have embraced the rapidly changing demographics in Georgia.

    On my trip, I met with local AAPI nonprofit organizations to gain a deeper understanding of the community, and to discuss issues concerning Georgia’s AAPIs. One of these organizations - Center for Pan Asian Community Services - provides a range of social services from after school programs to health screenings within the AAPI community. I also had the opportunity to check out the famous Buford Highway that houses hundreds of AAPI businesses and restaurants, including Atlanta Radio Korea, where I chatted with the host on live radio in Korean (my comments translated simultaneously) about the Initiative’s work, commonsense immigration reform, the Affordable Care Act and student debt.

    An important part of the visit was meeting with local officials, including Gwinnett county mayors and commissioners. Together, we discussed AAPI issues and concerns in Georgia, including small business growth, health care, immigration, and AAPI representation in government (Read about how fixing our broken immigration system will help our economy here). While the population growth of AAPIs is heartening, it is critically important that this level of growth be reflected in participation and representation in local and state government, and ensuring public officials are responsive to issues that impact diverse AAPI communities.

    The day culminated in Building Georgia’s Asian American Future, a dinner hosted by the Georgia Asian American and Pacific Islander Task Force and many other organizations. The event brought together local community members and public officials, and highlighted how active and engaged Georgia AAPIs are becoming. There, I shared my sentiments on what I’d seen in Georgia, and my hopes for a bright future for all of us. My time in Georgia allowed me to look back at my past and reflect on AAPIs in Georgia when I was a kid, growing up in Savannah, Georgia, and to now witness a great deal of positive, inspiring change and growth. The local AAPI community and business leaders, and public officials illustrated a conviction to build on the progress being made for all Georgians, including AAPIs. What I saw assured me of all the positive things to come.

    Kiran Ahuja is the Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

  • HealthCare.Gov Provides Tools to Help AAPIs Get Health Insurance

    HealthCare.Gov Provides Tools to Help AAPIs Get Health Insurance


    Too often, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) are viewed as a “model minority” group – one that is wealthy, healthy and happy. However, this misconception masks many of the challenges the AAPI community faces – including persistent disparities in health and health care. For instance, nearly one out of every five AAPIs lacks health insurance. Moreover, AAPIs, like other racial and ethnic minority groups, suffer disproportionately from chronic diseases such as hepatitis B, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. AAPIs are also the least likely among all racial groups to receive routine mammograms and pap smears.

    Three years after its passage, the Affordable Care Act is proving to be a tipping point in our efforts to help address these disparities. Access to affordable health insurance coverage is one of the most important determinants of an individual’s health. Because of the health care law, AAPIs are already gaining greater access to health coverage, thanks to provisions that allow young adults to stay on their parents’ health insurance plans until age 26, and prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage to children because of a pre-existing condition, like diabetes.

    And, that’s just the beginning; starting in 2014 nearly 2 million uninsured Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders will have new opportunities for coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace. Also, increased funding to community health centers is enabling more AAPIs to receive culturally and linguistically appropriate care. Strengthened data collection standards that distinguish between AAPI subgroups will help providers and policymakers better understand the diverse needs of different groups in the AAPI community, and make more informed decisions about how best to address health disparities. These are just a few of the many ways the Affordable Care Act benefits AAPIs.

    An important feature of the Affordable Care Act is the new Health Insurance Marketplace. The Marketplace will serve as a one-stop shop for individuals, families, and small businesses to search for health coverage options and apply to enroll in the plan that best fits their needs. Individuals can compare plans based on price, benefits, and other features, as well as find out if they are eligible for assistance to help pay for premiums or other programs like Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Enrollment in the Marketplace begins October 1, 2013 for coverage beginning in (or after) January 2014, so it’s important to get ready now to apply and enroll. is the official website for the latest and most accurate information about the Marketplace. With resources, videos, and checklists, and a live web chat available 24/7, the website is the best resource for consumers to learn about health coverage options and enrollment now. Beginning October 1, will be the place to go to directly access the Marketplace.  Consumers can also call the toll-free number now at 1-800-318-2596 to speak with a representative.  The call center offers assistance 24 hours a day, 7 days per week in over 150 languages, including Bengali, Chinese, Hindi, Korean, Tagalog and Vietnamese.

    Brochures, fact sheets, posters, infographics and videos (including materials in Asian languages) are also available at The White House Initiative on AAPIs also provides more information on the Affordable Care Act specifically for the AAPI community. Now is the time to learn about your options, prepare for enrollment, and spread the word to your loved ones and your communities about these new opportunities for health coverage and health care.

    Dr. J. Nadine Gracia is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Minority Health and the Director of the Office of Minority Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

  • Recognizing the Extraordinary Contribution of Filipino Veterans

    In 1941, more than 260,000 Filipino soldiers responded to President Roosevelt’s call-to-arms and fought under the American flag during World War II.  Many made the ultimate sacrifice as both soldiers in the U.S. Army Forces in the Far East, and as recognized guerrilla fighters during the Imperial Japanese occupation of the Philippines.  Later, many of these brave individuals became proud United States citizens.  However, because of the Rescission Acts of 1946, most Filipino World War II Veterans did not receive compensation on par with United States veterans for their service to the United States.  

    President Obama recognizes the extraordinary contribution made by Filipino veterans. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which the President signed into law, included a provision creating the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation Fund. Eligible veterans who are U.S. citizens receive a one-time payment of $15,000; eligible veterans who are not U.S. citizens receive a one-time payment of $9,000.  

    To date, we are pleased that over 18,000 claims have been approved. However, many Filipino Veterans still believe that their claims were improperly denied, or that they did not receive a satisfactory explanation as to why their claims were denied.  To address these concerns, in October 2012, the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, in collaboration with the Office of Management and Budget and the Domestic Policy Council, created the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation Fund Interagency Working Group (IWG) comprised of the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Defense, and the National Archives and Record Administration.  The IWG was tasked with analyzing the process faced by these Filipino veterans in demonstrating eligibility for compensation in order to ensure that all applications receive thorough and fair review.