Asian Americans join fight against Arizona anti-immigration law

Asian American civil rights groups are gearing up to challenge Arizona’s new anti-immigration law, joining Latino and civil liberties organizations that oppose it.

The Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC) and other Asian American civil rights groups announced this week they will be filing a legal challenge to Arizona’s law along with other civil rights organizations, including the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), the National Day Labor Organizing Network and the American Civil Liberties Union.

“We realize it makes a difference to have one consolidated effort,” said Julie Su, litigation director for APALC, who will head up the litigation effort on behalf of the Asian American community.

Arizona has a small Asian population, well below the national average. About 2.5 percent of Arizonans are Asian, mostly Chinese, Filipino and Asian Indian, while Latinos make up 30 percent of the state. But Ronald Lee, senior staff attorney for the immigration program at the Asian American Justice Center, said the Asian community has been quick to react to SB 1070. Groups like the Japanese American Citizens League, Organization of Chinese Americans, and Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus have already condemned the law.

AAJC just announced it was joining sister organizations like National Council of La Raza in an economic boycott of Arizona. But Lee says the most important response has been on the ground in Arizona. “It’s been heartening,” he said. “These are not people generally in the civil rights community. They are lawyers in private practice, small business owners.” The Asian American Chamber of Commerce in Arizona as well as the Filipino American Chamber of Commerce have sent letters of protest to Gov. Jan Brewer.

The need now, say civil rights groups, is for people to come forward with stories about any discrimination they feel or racial profiling they experience.

“We understand racial profiling,” said Su. “After all, we had Wen Ho Lee.” The nuclear scientist was branded a Chinese spy before being exonerated.

According to Deepa Iyer, executive director of South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), South Asians are particularly sensitive to racial profiling after 9/11. “While the media might portray it as an anti-Latino bill, people understand that this law will affect all people who are brown and have accents,” she said.

Iyer’s group is in touch with Arizona-based South Asians for Safe Families. Though that group focuses on domestic violence, it is concerned that SB 1070 could make community members afraid to approach the police even in cases of domestic violence.

“We are also explaining to people that this law is not just about the undocumented, or racial profiling during traffic stops,” said Lee. “It affects those who associate with them. So an employee could file a complaint against a small business owner if he suspects someone undocumented is working there.”

Su said that there is a segment of the community that would like to “bury its head in the sand,” but there is “more cross-racial collaboration that happens than gets reported.”

“Also, it’s not just Arizona,” said Iyer. “We are worried about copycat legislation in other states which have more significant South Asian populations.”

The initial flurry of press releases about a legal challenge came from groups like MALDEF and ACLU without mentioning Asian groups. That raised some eyebrows. “There were a lot of moving parts and they were moving too quickly,” said Su. But she added she has no doubt the challenge will be across ethnic lines, even if the brunt of racial profiling in Arizona is borne by Latinos.

“We have to fight back because it affects all of us,” said Su. “But we also have to fight back because we need to be in solidarity with Latinos.”

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