In the current debate, immigration is often depicted as a Latino issue. This is partially because just over half of America’s foreign-born population is from Latin America and the Caribbean, and the current political climate around immigration is largely seen as being driven by Latino turnout for Democrats in the 2012 election. But this depiction glosses over the millions of immigrants – documented and undocumented – who hail from other parts of the globe.
The second largest group of American immigrants is from Asia. Asian Americans make up over a quarter of America’s foreign-born population, and since 2008, have made up 40 percent of incoming immigrants. Two-thirds of Asian adults in the U.S. are foreign born, and three-fifths are eligible to vote. In 2012, Asian Americans voted for President Obama in similar numbers to Latinos, and of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country, 1.3 million are of Asian origin. It makes sense, then, to consider what Asian Americans think about immigration reform.
A recent report from the National Asian American Survey (NAAS) found that 58 percent of Asian Americans support a roadmap to citizenship for the undocumented, which is a dramatic change from just four years ago, when support for the roadmap was only at 32 percent. The survey also focused on the family visa backlog – an issue that is often less covered than issues more associated in the media with Latino migration, like border security and the plight of undocumented immigrants. NAAS reported that a majority of Asians – 54 percent – say the backlog is a problem, which is logical considering the number of Asians waiting on visas. According to the survey, “There are an estimated 4.3 million individuals waiting abroad due to backlogs in the issuing of family visas. Of these, about 1.8 million are from Asian countries.”
While lawmakers have occasionally mentioned the backlogs in the current immigration debate, family visas are often relegated to the backseat behind the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) visas, which are praised for bringing high-skilled foreign workers to the United States. But as California Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D) pointed out at Tuesday’s House Judiciary Committee hearings on immigration, “it’s worth noting that none of the founders of these [high-tech Silicon Valley] companies came to the U.S. because of their skills: Sergey Brin [Google], Jerry Yang [Yahoo], Andy Grove [Intel] and Pierre Omidyar [eBay] all came here through our family-based system or because they were refugees or the children of refugees.”
Family backlogs and the roadmap to citizenship are something Asians will pay close attention to. As a large portion of the immigrant community, and a growing portion of America, it’s important to take the opinions and interests of the Asian American community into consideration during the ongoing immigration debate and make sure that family visas remain a key part of the conversation.