Though President Donald Trump has announced he’ll delay his plan that would deploy Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers to raid the homes of undocumented immigrants, the Asian community is bracing for what’s to come.
The U.S. population of undocumented Asian Americans tripled in 15 years, from 2000 to 2015, making it the fastest growing undocumented group in the country, according to AAPI Data. Currently, there are an estimated 1.7 million undocumented Asian Americans living in the U.S., roughly 15% of the total undocumented population.
With ICE raids scheduled to take place in about two weeks if Republicans and Democrats fail to reach a consensus on how to manage the number of people at the U.S. southern border, tensions remain high among Asian immigrants.
“The immigration enforcement is not just about the Southern Border but also about the deep impact it’s having on Asian communities,” Jo-Ann Yoo, executive director of the New York City-based social services nonprofit Asian American Federation (AAF), told HuffPost in an email. “We know the faces and stories of those who live under deportation orders, many who are working through the legal system to seek recourse from being separated from their families.”
The looming roundups are set to hit families across several major U.S. cities. In New York City, Asian undocumented immigrants are already disproportionately targeted by the agency. Asians have the highest rate of deportations compared with all other racial groups in the city, Yoo said. A February report from city Comptroller Scott Stringer showed that Chinese immigrants made up 21% of the city’s immigration court proceedings ― the largest portion of cases when broken down by nationality. Indian immigrants made up the next highest portion, at 10%.
Howard Shih, director of research and policy at AAF, explained to HuffPost that Chinese immigrants are more easily targeted by ICE than other nationalities in part because of the high number of asylum claims among Chinese immigrants. These claims are becoming more difficult to win as the Trump administration continues to crack down on both legal and unauthorized immigration, Shih said.
“This leaves those who fail to win asylum vulnerable to deportation,” he said.
Moreover, Asians have the highest poverty rate in New York, compared with other races. Shih says that the shortage of low-cost or free community-based legal services has led to a lack of knowledge about the range of immigration relief services available.
Asian communities in other areas of the country have also been on edge because of experiences with ICE. Kevin Lo, staff attorney at the nonprofit Asian Americans Advancing Justice-ALC, told HuffPost that the nationwide Southeast Asian community has on high alert for the past two years. ICE has targeted Cambodian communities nationwide about once every four months, he said. He added that an estimated 40 Cambodian immigrants are expected to be deported in the next week.
What’s more, the Trump administration met with the Vietnamese government in December, fueling rumors that a 2008 agreement between the countries, which dictates who is eligible for deportation, could be undergoing renegotiation.
While Trump’s plans have been delayed, calls to the San Francisco Rapid Response Hotline, a service the nonprofit helps run that provides verification of ICE activity and free legal assistance, have increased within the last week, Lo said.
“The Trump Administration’s attacks on immigrant communities have consistently been about making people afraid,” he said.
The attorney added that language barriers inhibit Asian immigrants’ abilities to deal with immigration crackdowns. Shih backed up Lo’s claim, explaining that limited language skills leave Asian immigrants ill-prepared to deal with ICE roundups.
“Many lack language skills, and there’s limited outreach to these populations because agencies that are serving Asian immigrants are under-resourced,” Shih said. “Community organizations are also less prepared than Hispanic-serving organizations, for example, to mobilize in support of detained individuals.”
Advocates also point out that community stigma regarding immigration status has limited many Asian immigrants’ access to help. Yoo said that many feel they’ll be shamed for failing to be self-sufficient.
“If there aren’t the investments made for on-the-ground nonprofit groups to build relationships and earn the trust, it’s difficult to support families when ICE is knocking on the door,” Shih said. “We needed to build these relationships years ago, to help the vulnerable members of our community realize that there is assistance, and we needed the legal support to review cases and find ways to help newcomers seek legal relief.”
Lo recommended that people concerned about ICE raids find out how they can receive free or low-cost legal help through the Immigration Advocates Network. And Yoo urged those who aren’t facing possible raids to speak out for community members.
“Raids will force family separations and target vulnerable immigrants who are seeking safe harbor in our country,” Yoo said. “We must stand up against these cruel acts that instill fear in our immigrant communities.”