Many strong organizations and leaders are fighting for immigration reform. Some of those on the front line are sharing their stories and strategies for making reform a reality. Today, I’m delighted to bring you the thoughts of Erin Oshiro, the Immigration and Immigrants’ Rights Senior Staff Attorney for Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC). LIRS Media Relations Specialist Clarissa Perkins carried out the following email interview.
Please join Oshiro in the fight for fair and compassionate immigration reform and welcoming national policies! Beyond this interview, you can learn the latest about immigration reform legislation or take action.
Clarissa Perkins (CP): How did you become involved in working with immigrants and fighting for their rights?
Erin Oshiro (EO): I first became familiar with immigration and immigrants’ rights as an undergraduate. As a college student, I volunteered at the Asian Pacific American Legal Center in Los Angeles in their workers’ rights unit. They organized garment workers, many of whom were undocumented immigrants, and educated workers on their rights. That was my first experience working with immigrants and learning about the struggles that undocumented immigrants faced. Later, when I was in private practice, I represented a few individuals in asylum proceedings as part of my pro bono work. All of this made me interested in immigrants’ rights.
CP: What do you love most about the work you do?
EO: I love knowing that the work I’m doing can make a real difference in real people’s lives. While my actual work takes place in D.C., I know that everything I’m doing will have a real world consequence for individuals, families, and communities. I went to law school to pursue my goal of doing good and meaningful work, and that’s what I do now, so it’s great.
CP: How would comprehensive immigration reform impact Asian and Pacific Islander (API) immigrants in particular?
EO: Immigration reform will impact the API community in a number of ways. Many people know that family reunification is a priority for Asian Americans because about 60% of our community is foreign born, which means that we have many loved ones in the huge family backlog. Reform that includes backlog reduction and any other provisions that reunite families more quickly would be a huge benefit for the Asian American community. On the flip side, changes that would eliminate family categories or restrict family immigration, such as S. 744, which eliminates the sibling category, would be devastating for many Asian American families. We believe all family members are valuable and important and the community is deeply troubled by changes such as these.
The path to citizenship is also critical for the community. Many people may not know that over 1 million undocumented immigrants are API and about 1 in 10 DREAMers are API. In fact, Senator Durbin first introduced the DREAM Act, in part, because of a Korean American family’s experience as undocumented immigrants. API youth have been at the front lines of demanding reform. Our community very much needs a path to citizenship that is fair, generous, and accessible.
CP: How has AAJC helped bring about bipartisan support for reform in Congress?
EO: Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC) has been an integral part of the overall push for bipartisan legislation, but we have focused on building bipartisan support for family reunification. In addition to our coalition partners, which includes LIRS, we are working with a Republican strategist to help build ties across the aisle to educate conservative members about the importance of family reunification. We continue to work hard to make the case for family and why reform cannot leave families out or pit family against business. Family-based immigrants are important economic contributors both as workers and business owners who create jobs for Americans. We know family members help New Americans integrate more successfully and provide a significant safety net while families build a new life here. We hope that members in both parties will see that family-based immigrants are valuable and we need reforms that keep families together.
CP: What changes are you looking forward to most in the new immigration reform bill?
EO: I am most excited about reducing the family backlog. It is unconscionable that family members are separated for years, if not decades, because of arbitrary limits and caps. Family life should not be restricted or put on hold because of quotas. It will take some time but it’s important that family members who have waited so long can finally be reunited with their loved ones in America.