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Asian Undocumented Immigrants Lay Low – MMXLII

Asian Undocumented Immigrants Lay Low

Here are a few excerpts from Zi Heng Lim’s excellent article on the challenges faced by illegal Asians in America who don’t benefit from the same visibility and organization than the Latino community.

An undocumented Asian person can easily blend in in this busy neighbordhood. Marilyn Bitterman, the district manager of Queens Community Board 7, estimates that around 40,000 undocumented people live in her district, which includes downtown Flushing. In total, 11.1 million undocumented immigrants were residing in the United States in 2011, according to the Pew Hispanic Center in a latest report. This is roughly the equivalent of the entire population of Ohio, the seventh-most populous state in the U.S.

“I’ve always known that I’m undocumented. I’ve known it since the day my B-2 visa expired,” he said, referring to the tourist visa for temporary entry (not more than six months) into the U.S. He was, however, forbidden by his family from revealing this secret to anyone outside. The horror of being sent back to South Korea was deeply ingrained in him from young.

Asian undocumented immigrants have traditionally been less visible and vocal than their Hispanic counterparts. Most of the undocumented immigrants who have gone public in the media about their status are Hispanic. In contrast, one rarely sees Asians talking about the issue on television.

“Undocumented Asians may conclude, to some extent correctly, that this is a fight that has to be waged and won by the Latino community because there’re just so many more of them,” explained Gabriel Chin, who teaches immigration law at the University of California, Davis. “The Latino involvement in immigration reform is community-wide, both undocumented and legal.”


Consequently, the many immigrant organizations in New York serve a mainly Hispanic client base. One Asian undocumented youth told me he’d planned to join the New York State Youth Leadership Council, an organization led by and for undocumented youths, but held back because “it felt like a Hispanic group and I might be left out.”

(…)for Asians, the stakes are usually much higher. They have come from half a world away, some on a visa, others paying up to $80,000 to “snakeheads,” criminal slang for Chinese gangs that smuggle people to other countries by ship. In June 1993, ten people drowned after a cargo ship called the Golden Venture carrying 286 half-starved illegal immigrants from China’s Fujian province ran aground off the coast of Queens. Having risked life and savings to come to America, those who make it wager that lying low is the best option.


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