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Support family reunification, activists tell Obama

May 16, 2013 19:34 IST

A coalition of Asian-American groups led by activist Deepa Iyer recently met United States President Barack Obama to urge him to support family reunification in the new comprehensive immigration reform bill.

The coalition under the banner of the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans -- which Iyer chairs, besides being founder and executive director of South Asian  Americans Leading Together -- also implored Obama to ensure health and language access to these communities as well as strengthen civil rights protections and diversify federal appointments.

The meeting, held in the White House's Roosevelt Room, included senior White House officials and top staff from the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, led by its Executive Director Kiran Ahuja.

Leaders echoed issues contained in the NCAPA's Policy Platform, which included the needs of low-income and limited-English proficient individuals, bullying and harassment, federal recognition of native lands, and immigrant integration.

“This meeting,” Iyer said, “represented a historic moment for Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders across the nation to press for long-needed policy changes directly with the President of the United States. President Obama acknowledged the growth and political power of our community, and also said that his administration’s policy agenda aligns with the community’s interests.”

The meeting was part of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. The leaders urged President Obama to ensure immigration reform includes strong family reunification policies and health insurance benefits for all.

“We share the President’s goals of achieving immigration reform,” said Mee Moua, president and executive director, Asian American Justice Center. “But we are deeply concerned about the family separation policies in the current Senate bill. We strongly urge the Senate to support family reunification as a priority for our legal immigration system and make sure that fixing the broken system does not result in broken families.”

Kathy Ko Chin, president and CEO, Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum, said, “We asked the President to work with Congress to fix health reform and allow undocumented immigrants to pay for health insurance with their own funds, and without any fiscal impact to taxpayers.”

Iyer underlined the importance of appointing qualified Asian-American and Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders to federal agency positions, and addressed the spike in hate violence that has affected many community members.

“We are thankful to President Obama for taking the time to sit down and talk to us,” she said. “We look forward to continuing the dialogue between our community and his administration.”

Iyer told India Abroad that Obama “was particularly responsive to the issue I raised around the spike in hate violence, which, as you know, has affected South Asian, Sikh and Muslim community members disproportionately over the past decade.”

She added: “These are critical meetings for us. SAALT is consistently asked to advice and advocate on issues that impact our communities.”

Meanwhile, US Senator Mazie Hirono (Democrat, Hawaii) filed amendments to strengthen family reunification.

Moua said, “We are grateful to Senator Hirono for continuing to fight for families of all ethnic groups and faiths.”

The lawmaker’s amendments, Moua explained, seek “to reinstate the visa categories for siblings and adult married children of all ages enhances opportunities for immigrants to start a business, raise and provide for their children, establish roots in our communities and become active participants in our society.”

Hirono said, ‘As an immigrant who came to this country as a young girl, I know how important it is to support immigrant families in order for them to succeed once they are here. That’s why I have proposed a number of amendments to the Gang of Eight’s bill that enable immigrants to build a support network of family and access social safety nets.’

Iyer and Moua acknowledged that the Gang of Eight’s bill does address key issues in  family immigration system, such as eliminating the family backlog and making it easier for Green Card holders to reunite with their spouses and children. However, they noted, the bill has its share of bad parts, including provisions that eliminate the visa category for brothers and sisters and place an age cap on the adult married children visa category.

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC