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Sharmila Rudrappa, Director BUR 480, Mailcode A2200, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-232-9468

Undocu-Asian: Unapologetic and Unafraid

Posted: December 6, 2013
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By Nicholas Chan

The Undocu-Asian movement affects over 1.4 million individuals making up 12% of the U.S Asian population. The Center for Asian American Studies helped spearhead that movement on the UT campus. Student activists worked with several campus organizations like the Multicultural Engagement Center and the University Leadership Initiative to organize Undocumented Longhorns Week.  The weeklong series of events featured panels, discussions, teach-ins about the immigration reform movement, and a talk from undocumented Filipino American journalist Jose Antonio Vargas.

Highlighting her personal experiences as an undocumented Asian, Ainee Athar, a recent graduate of the university, led the campaign for the week of events and facilitated the main Undocu-Asian teach-in.  During the teach-in, Ainee shared multiple videos and stories of undocumented Asians and their struggle to simply survive because being undocumented deprives them of simple resources and services others take for granted.  As undocumented students, they can’t apply for federal aid or scholarships to fund their college education, they can’t vote or have a say in government, and can’t work because they don’t have a nine-digit social security number. Nor can they apply for a driver’s license to even drive to school or work.

With over 400 undocumented students on the UT campus, the story line seems to be the same. “Helpless, powerless, an extreme injustice creating broken families,” were just a few words echoed through the stories shared. Undocumented students often suffer from depression or lack of motivation to do well in school. An undocumented Filipino student in New York shared, “everything I was dreaming about was fake…all a lie.” With these tough conditions, there are many cases of undocumented students having to find jobs where they’re paid under the table at a wage much less than if they had papers simply to fund one class a semester at a community college. At this rate, they would take over 20 years to gain their college degree.   “It’s not the best life, but it’s the only one I can have right now.”

That this immigration issue affects only one community is a common myth. Ainee explains how “Asians are the fastest growing immigrant population in the United States.” She explains the Asian perspective and shares the story of her family being put on a watch list following the 9/11 attacks. “Muslim people started being systematically deported—entire populations of Muslims deported. 13,000 of men in deportation proceedings—sign up or you will be deported immediately.” Ju Hong, a student from UC-Berkeley shares his fears, “every night before I go to sleep, I check my door before I go to sleep because that’s how panicked I am.” Undocu-Asian experiences reveal continuing treatment as perpetual foreigners where “we want you labor, not your lives.”

The teach-in also covered the criminalization of the immigration movement in which corporations work with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to pass legislation to disproportionately criminalize offenders because they profit whenever someone is thrown into prison. ALEC is the same group that created the Stand Your Ground law regarding the Trayvon Martin case.  The immigration laws racialize specific groups, including Asians. Discussion also addressed the Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill which would simultaneously provide a pathway to citizenship while heavily militarizing the border. Border patrol was actually one of the programs not closed during the government shut-down and though border crossings are at a historic low, the government spends over $18 billion patrolling the border at a cost greater than the DEA, FBI, and Secret Service combined.

The movement has made huge strides. The DREAM Act was actually inspired by an undocumented Asian student simply trying to pursue a higher education. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program provides immunity for deportation for 2 years and allows undocumented individuals to get a work permit. Finally, the student groups on campus worked together to draft legislation in support of Undocumented Longhorns Week. Backlash and pushback on the resolution from UT’s Student Government only affirmed the need for undocumented students and allies on campus to challenge assembly members.  However, with extended discussion, grassroots advocacy, and a huge showing in the gallery the night of the vote, the resolution was passed. Yet again, the UT community joined hands to create change and provide protections to students on an issue affecting many communities of color.

Nicholas Chan is the CAAS student associate and is majoring in Government.

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