I HAVE been a resident of the United States for a very long time, longer than the years I have spent in the country where I come from, the Philippines. To be able to come to the USA as a Fulbright-Hays scholar, to meet someone with similar progressive values who is also an immigrant, to be petitioned to live here, and to create a life that many would consider successful, has been a gift, a blessing indeed.
However, over the last three-and-a-half years, the Trump administration has used fear and blame to deny basic human rights to immigrants and refugees, casting them as responsible for our nation’s ills. The growing COVID-19 disaster, racialized by the current president as the “China Virus”, has seen an unsettling rise in racist and xenophobic discrimination and violence.
Immigration and refugee issues have also worsened during the pandemic. While it is true that comprehensive reforms to systemic issues have proven challenging to past administrations, the current one has denied rights that this country has granted immigrants who seek a better life for themselves and their families. For those who have been caught up in ICE sweeps and have experienced family separation and detention, their health and lives are at risk from the spread of the coronavirus in overcrowded immigrant detention centers.
Green card holders have also been impacted through an executive order that established a limited and temporary moratorium on the issuance of certain green cards. Although this falls short of an outright ban on all legal immigration, the administration’s use of the pandemic undermines avenues of legal immigration to the United States. There have been postponed hearings, enforced new border restrictions and suspended visa services and refugee admissions. Senator Jeanne Shaheen joined a group of senators to send a letter to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to express concern that USCIS’s current suspension of certain naturalization procedures during the pandemic will delay eligible immigrants from being granted citizenship in a timely manner.
On the job front, SARS-CoV-2 has impacted Asian workers with unemployment skyrocketing to as high as 20.3% compared to an adjusted rate of 13.5% for white workers in May. Not surprisingly, this is on par with other disadvantaged racial groups — Black (19.8%) and Hispanic (20.4%). Notably, the unemployment rate among Asian workers in February was only 2.5% (Pew Research).
Asian Americans are also at risk of losing the gains on the health front with relentless attempts to demolish the Affordable Care Act. According to The Commonwealth Fund, the ACA helped eliminate the coverage gap between Asian American and white adults. From being more likely to be uninsured compared to whites in 2010–2011, Asian Americans by 2017-2018 had the lowest uninsured rate of any racial or ethnic group in the U.S. Such gains must not be reversed and progress should continue to be pursued: Korean, Vietnamese, and other Asian Americans are significantly more likely to be uninsured in 2017–2018, compared to Indian, Chinese, and Filipino Americans.
What I have seen transpire over the last three-and-a-half years does not represent what the USA is known for: a country where individuals, families, and businesses can thrive, where policies are grounded on fairness and justice, dignity, integrity, freedom, and compassion. Let us remember that immigrants have played a vital role in enriching the diversity of this country and in shaping its economic success and greatness. Let us resolve to help restore this country’s promise — to immigrants and non-immigrants alike — who seek a better life, to realize the dream promised to those willing to work hard and persevere.