Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Blog

  • Pursuing the American Dream with Dignity

    Ed. note: This blog was cross-posted from the United States Department of Labor.

    Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is a time for all of us to reflect on the heroes whose struggle and sacrifice have too often gone unrecognized. It is also a time to look to the future, to the challenges AAPI communities still face and how we can address them together. We recently had the opportunity to reflect when we inducted Chinese Railroad Workers into the Labor Department’s Hall of Honor – the first time AAPI leaders have received this tribute.

    This week, I had the opportunity to look to the future when I met with eight inspirational young people of Asian heritage who have benefited under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (known as DACA), a program implemented in 2012 by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. DACA offers two-year relief from deportation and the ability to obtain temporary work authorization to certain undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and who meet several other criteria.

    These young people have overcome remarkable obstacles. Many hold down two jobs to support their families and save for college. Some work long hours and attend school at the same time, while others have been forced to live apart from their parents for seven or more years because of the mixed immigration status of their families.

    One senior at the University of Maryland described how his parents, immigrants from India and Bangladesh, came to the U.S. to escape religious persecution. Growing up in Silver Spring, Maryland, from the age of 1, he learned English by watching the “Fresh Prince of Bel Air.” Although his parents were able to obtain work permits, they were eventually denied refuge and deported to India. DACA has allowed him to remain in the country, and he now works at a pharmacy and takes care of his younger brother. He misses his parents, but when asked about returning to India says, “I don’t know what it’s like to live in India; I grew up in this culture.”

    Many told stories of their families emigrating because they were told that they were going to be able to live and work in the country legally, only to realize that they had been scammed. They spoke of the loss of dignity, and of childhoods filled with the fear of deportation. Many of these young people and their parents were mistreated by employers − working in unsafe environments, paid below the minimum wage and regularly threatened with deportation. In the words of one DACA recipient, “everything stops because of that fear of being deported. [DACA] gave me a sense of normalcy, and now I have options.”

    I was struck by the remarkable optimism that these young people had about their future. They embody the qualities of what it means to be American – hardworking, courageous, innovative and resilient. And for all of them, DACA has changed the course of their lives, giving them a path to upward mobility, normalcy, and safety.

    I am heartened that over a half million young people have obtained DACA status. But there is more work to do. There are potentially another half million eligible individuals who have not sought DACA, and the first wave of DACA recipients from the fall of 2012 are soon going to need to renew their two-year status. DACA also does not fix our broken immigration system.

    That is why President Obama and this administration are doing everything we can to pass comprehensive immigration reform this year. We need reform that creates an earned path to citizenship, strengthens our borders, protects workers and holds employers accountable. We need reform that keeps families together and brings the system into the 21st century.

    Despite facing so much hardship, these youth have contributed to our nation’s strength and vitality. They deserve more than the uncertainty and anxiety of their current status; they deserve the embrace of the nation they know as home.

    Let’s get this done.

    Tom Perez is the Secretary of Labor.

  • Expanding Opportunity for AAPI Communities Through Education

    Ed. Note: This has been cross-posted from The Huffington Post.

    For Asian-American families, there is nothing more valued than education. As we celebrate Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, it is important to reflect on where our communities stand on educational achievement and where we can improve.

    In 2010, President Obama made a commitment to double the number of college graduates by 2020 because he understood that a post-secondary education is essential to preparing Americans for the jobs of the future. As the employment report for April 2014 showed, the unemployment rate for those with a bachelor degree or higher was 3.3 percent, nearly half the rate of someone with only a high school education (6.3 percent). Over the next decade, the number of jobs that require more than a high school diploma will increase significantly faster than jobs that require only a high school diploma.

    According to new data compiled by the Labor Department for 2013, Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders overall have done well in obtaining a college education, with over 53.4 percent of their population holding a bachelor degree or higher. This is substantially higher than the next closest group, whites, where 31.9 percent have a college degree. As with every other race, obtaining a college degree means facing lower rates of unemployment. For AAPIs, having a college education means shaving nearly 2 percentage points off the unemployment rate compared to AAPIs with only a high school education.

    While the overall educational attainment rate is high, AAPIs are not a monolithic group, and wide disparities exist among different subgroups. Indian-Americans have the highest rate of college graduates (76.1 percent), followed by Korean-Americans (58.7 percent) and Chinese-Americans (56.8 percent), while Vietnamese-Americans trailed significantly with only 29.5 percent holding a college degree. Of particular concern are Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders, among whom only 26.5 percent have a college degree and nearly one-third have only a high school education.

    This disparity in educational attainment rates should serve as a call to action. Even though the AAPI community as a whole is prospering, what can we do to ensure that everyone in our community is able to access the American Dream?

    Here at the Labor Department, we are committing significant funds this year to offer job training services that lead toward an associate or bachelor’s degree, including $450 million in funds as part of the next round of the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training program. We’re also working with Registered Apprenticeship sponsors and colleges to turn years of apprenticeship training into college credits. These are just a few of our programs that will help AAPIs advance their educational and employment goals.

    We also need to fix our broken immigration system to encourage more highly educated foreign-born workers to come to the United States. If we are to compete in a global economy, we must continue to attract and retain the world’s brightest minds. Too many foreign students – many from Asian countries – come to the United States to further their education but must return home when they cannot obtain a green card or immigrant visa. As part of President Obama’s immigration reforms, he has called for “stapling green cards” to the diplomas of foreign graduates students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.

    This month is an appropriate time to reflect on the accomplishments of the AAPI communities – from earliest achievements of the Chinese Railroad Workers completing the nation’s first transcontinental railroad to today’s success in nearly every industry and aspect of American society. But we must continue working to make sure all members of our communities are able to succeed. 

    Chris Lu is the deputy secretary of labor.

  • Celebrating Champions for Health in the AAPI Community

    For too long, many members of the Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander community have lacked access to quality, affordable health care. Consider these statistics:

    • One in four Korean Americans is uninsured;
    • Nearly 40% of Asian American women over the age of 40 don’t get routine mammograms;
    • One in four Asian Americans over the age of 18 – and one in three Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders – has not seen a doctor in the last year.

    The Affordable Care Act provides an opportunity to provide nearly two million uninsured Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders with quality, affordable health care. In addition, eight out of ten uninsured AAPIs may be eligible for financial assistance through Medicaid, CHIP, or tax credits in the Health Insurance Marketplace. That’s why, according to a report released by HHS last week, of enrollees in the Marketplace, 8% were Asian American, Native Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander.

    Across the country, organizations and individuals stepped up to do their part to educate the AAPI community about the Affordable Care Act. And last month, the White House and U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) honored the following 11 advocates and community leaders as “Champions of Change” for their work to educate Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders about the Affordable Care Act:

    • Teresita Batayola, CEO, International Community Health Services (Seattle, WA)
    • Sophie Duong, CEO/President, Nationwide Viet Radio (Falls Church, VA)
    • Howard J. Eng, Assistant Professor and Director of the Southwest Border Rural Health Research Center, The University of Arizona College of Public Health (Tucson, AZ)
    • Minja Hong, Program Coordinator of Healthcare Access Services, Korean Community Services of Metropolitan New York (New York, NY)
    • Priscilla Huang, Action for Health Justice (Washington, DC)
    • Amy Jones, Director of Health & Social Services, Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Association Coalition, Inc. (Philadelphia, PA)
    • Manjusha P. Kulkarni, Executive Director, South Asian Network (Artesia, CA)
    • Ranjana Paintal, Program Manager, Asian Health Coalition of Illinois (Chicago, IL)
    • Cathy Phan, Affordable Care Act Program Coordinator, Asian American Health Coalition - HOPE Clinic (Houston, TX)
    • Bruce Thao, Director of Programs, Hmong American Partnership and Hmong National Development (St. Paul, MN)
    • Cathy Vue, Program Coordinator, Asian Services In Action, Inc. (Cleveland, OH)

    Gautam Raghavan is Associate Director of the Office of Public Engagement.

  • Serving AAPI Communities in the Midwest

    Ranjana Paintal

    Ranjana Paintal is being honored as a Health in the AAPI Community Champion of Change.

    I am honored to be chosen along with my fellow counterparts as a Champion of Change. Over the last year, I have served as program manager for the Asian Health Coalition’s partnership consortium around education, outreach and enrollment to underserved Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) communities in Illinois, which has been made possible through the Affordable Care Act. My participation at the local level has been fulfilling both on a personal and professional level in this landmark national effort. However, this award magnifies this sense of fulfillment because it furthers one of our agency’s most significant goals- to bring attention to the challenges of the marginalized immigrant and refugee communities in Illinois. 

    “No community should be invisible to its government” said President Barack Obama when he unveiled his vision to meet the growing and unmet needs of this country’s AAPI community a few years ago.  These words have been central to our mission at the Asian Health Coalition as many of the immigrant communities that we work with have historically lacked health insurance and access to basic preventative care.

    Illinois is home to the 5th largest AAPI population in the nation and also the largest in the Midwest region. As more than two-thirds of AAPIs in Illinois are immigrants, the passage of the Affordable Care Act presents an amazing opportunity to address the needs of the communities that our consortium serves and allows them to have access to health care services which we regard as a basic human right.

    Our consortium of community-based organizations and their certified navigators have been cultural brokers in the education, outreach and enrollment of their community members. Right from the beginning, our navigators educated each of the unique populations that they served about the Affordable Care Act and how it could help them, and then followed up to ensure that those needing assistance in the enrollment process received the help that they needed. Culturally sensitive and language appropriate educational materials were created with feedback from our community partners; ethnic news media outlets, and key stakeholders including community leaders were educated to help spread the word within their networks.  As a result, these communities had access to simple and jargon-free information in their native language, were encouraged to sign up from those they trusted most (faith leaders, community leaders and elders), and had trustworthy spokespeople from within their community who they could rely on to navigate them through the enrollment process. Thanks to the efforts of my colleagues and our partners, we had an incredibly successful enrollment period, surpassing our enrollment goals and educating thousands of individuals.

    As a mother of 2 young children it gives me peace of mind to know that with the help of my health insurance I am better able to take care of myself so that I can take care of them. I look forward to the day when every parent in this country can say this, no matter what community they live in, what language they speak and where they are from.  I’m proud that I was able to play a role in this historic initiative that will hopefully bring us to that day.

    Ranjana Paintal is Program Manager for Asian Health Coalition of Illinois

  • Making Health Care a Reality

    Priscilla Huang

    Priscilla Huang is being honored as a Health in the AAPI Community Champion of Change.

    Of the over 2 million Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) who are uninsured, Bishnu Kamar was just one of the many. She was one of the many people who lived in fear of what might happen when they get sick and one of the many who could not afford quality coverage no matter how hard she worked as a social worker in her Philadelphia community.

    Through the Affordable Care Act, Bishnu was able to get covered and it now offers new opportunities for better health for millions of other AAPIs just like her. This is why Action for Health Justice was created.  It was co-founded by my organization, the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum, the Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations, Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC and Asian Americans Advancing Justice | Los Angeles.

    We launched this national, coordinated initiative because we wanted to ensure the Affordable Care Act was not just a promise, but a reality for AAPIs. With communities spanning 50 different ethnicities and speaking more than 100 different languages, the only way to ensure success was to develop culturally and linguistically tailored outreach strategies.

    Together, we tackled the challenge head-on. We leveraged the expertise and reach of national partners and the collective forces of more than 70 community-based organizations and health centers, implementing a multi-part strategy rooted in and driven by community need. On the ground in 21 states, we channeled our energies to where assistance was most needed: immigrant families facing complex eligibility questions and those with language barriers. Most importantly, we knew that providing education would not be enough. To be the most effective, we combined education through trusted messengers with new resources, coordinated efforts tailored specifically to help limited-English-proficient Americans get covered and worked closely with enrollment assisters to monitor and troubleshoot the enrollment process.

    From providing tens of thousands of AAPIs with information, to large town halls in California and beyond, we have gone to where our communities live, work, play and worship to promote the first open enrollment period. For many of the people we helped, Action for Health Justice partners were the first and only source of assistance they received.

    Our work would never have been possible without the tireless efforts of our community partners and health centers. When I hear coverage stories like Bishnu’s, or the many others Action for Health Justice helped, the Affordable Care Act becomes a little more real. With the first enrollment period behind us, we at Action for Health Justice remain committed to educating AAPIs and all communities about their health care options now and beyond. Action for Health Justice is a testament to the power and strength that can come from collective action. I am humbled to be a part of that and honored to make health care a reality for so many.

    Priscilla Huang is Policy Director for the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum, an organization that co-founded Action for Health Justice along with the Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations, Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC, and Asian Americans Advancing Justice | Los Angeles. 

  • Bringing Health Insurance to AAPI Immigrants in New York

    Minja Hong

    Minja Hong is being honored as a Health in the AAPI Community Champion of Change.

    The New York Metropolitan area where my organization serves is often the initial stepping stone for first generation immigrants who choose to make their lives here in the United States. They come here to work, to educate their children, and to create homes. This is no less true of members of the Korean community. Therefore, Korean Community Services’ mission is to support their aspirations through ESL classes, job training, and after-school classes that create culturally and linguistically appropriate social safety nets that make for stronger families and communities.

    My role as a Community Health Advocate, and as a state certified Navigator, allows me to understand all the practical challenges of receiving equal access healthcare, even in a diverse city such as ours. When open enrollment started, roughly one out of four individuals in the Korean community, were estimated to be without insurance due to linguistic, cultural, and financial barriers.

    As a result, the Navigators at my organization and I, needed to identify and problem solve how we would address concerns specific to the immigrant population when it came to this historical change in our Nation’s healthcare law. Through the support and collaboration with other minority organizations in New York we were able to find much needed answers and apply them while still maintaining full enrollment schedules. In addition, we were compelled to add New Jersey Korean Americans to our roster of clients because of the overwhelming need for language competent services. To accomplish this, my colleagues and I went through another round of training specific to the federal marketplace and traveled to New Jersey sites to provide services throughout the entire open enrollment period. I was also privileged to be able to serve the Japanese community in the region in learning about their options in order to participate more fully in the healthcare reform.

    Since our branch office is located in Midtown Manhattan it soon became evident to me that our role as bi-lingual Navigators was not only about exposing the challenges and distinctions in securing equal access healthcare to minority groups, but more about finding a common ground with the entire community. Regardless of race, language, creed or gender, the need to be healthy and to make sure one’s children are healthy was always the same. I am privileged to be able to work with driven and far-seeing colleagues, both in and outside my immediate organization, that continue to persevere in ensuring that people are empowered to make their own healthcare choices through education and changes in policy. My hope, going forward, is that despite the difficulties, or perhaps because of them, we find more common ground in the things that affect us all, such as access to healthcare, so that we can move toward creating healthy and productive communities.

    Minja Hong is Program Coordinator of Healthcare Access Services at Korean Community Services of Metropolitan New York