SENIOR MOMENTS: Immigration Reform Legislation

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SHIGEKUNI-PHILBy PHIL SHIGEKUNI

A couple of weeks or so ago, I read something on my email that got my attention: A group of Asian Americans are camped out on the lawn in front of the U.S. Capitol on a hunger fast in order to draw attention to legislation being considered in the House of Representatives dealing with immigration reform.

The Senate has already passed its reform legislation, and this group is fasting to demonstrate to the House the urgency our community feels towards getting this legislation passed. The message I received asked me to sign a petition asking House Speaker John Boehner to bring the legislation up for a vote.

This group calling itself Fasting for Families, as of today, has been fasting for over three weeks. A recent posting has President Obama, along with JACL Executive Director Priscilla Ouchida, visiting the site in their show of support.

I have been a part of a recently organized Christian group calling itself AAPI/CSJ — Asian American Pacific Islanders for Christian Social Justice — and it seemed to me to support this effort would be appropriate.

I was put in contact with Sun Young Park, who serves as a representative for a national Asian American civil rights organization. She told me her organization was attempting to get at least 100 Asians to fast in solidarity with those in Washington.

In checking out immigration reform, there was a great deal of information on the Internet: Everyone agrees the system is broken. Eleven million people are in this country illegally. Tragic situations have occurred whereby parents have been deported, leaving their children stranded in the U.S. Graduating high school students have been denied entry into higher education because of not being citizens.

While the majority of the illegal immigrants are from south of the border, the broken system involves a significant number of Asian/Pacific Islanders as well.

I proposed our group join with other Asian groups to fast for one day in support. Dec. 12 is the final day of this session of Congress and was suggested by Sun Young as a date for our fasting. I initially agreed, then had other thoughts.

My mind drifted back to early December 1941, the 7th, to be exact, which remains so indelibly etched in all of our memories. The day after, the 8th, was traumatic for many families when the FBI led immigrant fathers deemed to be community leaders out of their homes, not to be seen by their families again for years.

So, what does this have to do with immigration reform? These men were easy prey because they were not citizens. They were not citizens because of laws that prevented them for applying for citizenship. Also, they were prevented by law from owning land.

On Dec. 16, the Tuna Canyon Detention Center will be dedicated. When the designation of the Tuna Canyon was first proposed, I took a kind of “knee-jerk” position, claiming that the camp was a necessary evil that the government had to establish in the name of national security.

Since that column, my position was challenged by a few in the community. Someone pointed out, rightfully, that removing the key immigrants from the community left us without leadership when EO 9066 was issued, in February, which removed all the rest of us.

Also to be noted is the fact that the 25-year anniversary observance of redress legislation included an apology to all Japanese — citizen and non-citizen alike — who were involved in the wartime tragedy.

I am glad to admit I have changed my position, and will be among those attending the ceremony on the 16th.

One other note: I had an interesting discussion with Bill Watanabe the other day. He mentioned to me that some of the people he knows are opposed to legislation that would grant citizenship to those who are here illegally.

Immigration to the U.S. from Asia is laden with issues of legality. Immigration for Chinese was curtailed by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. By 1904, the Mexican border was effectively patrolled to bar all Asians. The 1924 Oriental Exclusion Act cut off all immigration from Asia. These discriminatory acts resulted in years of imprisonment for thousands of Chinese at Angel Island in San Francisco Bay. A few years ago, Judy Chu in the House of Representatives and Diane Feinstein in the Senate were successful in getting apologies from both chambers for the Chinese Exclusion Act.

As I stated above, the Mexican border patrol was initiated not to keep out Mexicans, but Asians. The late Don Estes, a history professor at San Diego City College, interviewed Isseis living in the San Diego area and discovered that more than a third had come across the border illegally.

I happily, but thoughtfully, fasted in solidarity on Sunday, Dec. 8. I salute those who have committed to do likewise on December 12: Harold Kameya, Marian Sunabe, Bill Watanabe, Laurence Joe, Xeres Kavalier, Jason Chu, and Bonny Tang.

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Phil Shigekuni writes from San Fernando Valley and can be contacted at [email protected] The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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