Update 1/13/12 2:33PM – Welcome, Multi-American readers! Thanks again to Leslie for featuring this post. I found out this afternoon that Steve Li is a member of Asian Students Promoting Immigrants’ Rights Through Education (ASPIRE) in the Bay Area, and any questions about him should be directed to that organization.
American media often frame unauthorized immigration to the US as a strictly Latino or Mexican issue, though that can be very misleading. In spite of the large numbers and the highly publicized work of activists such as Ju Hong and Tam Tran, the Asian undocumented population in the US still struggles to find a place in the immigration narrative.
According to Department of Homeland Security data, the majority of undocumented immigrants in the US still come from Mexico (estimated population of 6,640,000 in January 2010), though several Asian countries notably rank in the top 10 sending countries: the Philippines (280,000), India (200,000), South Korea (170,000), and China (130,000).
There are some groups of undocumented Asians that are even more “hidden” from the public discourse on unauthorized immigration. For example, the data do not show that some of the undocumented migrants from Latin America are also of Asian descent. Latin America has long-settled Asian populations, such as the Japanese in Brazil or the Chinese in Panama or Peru, who are subject to the same economic and social pressures that push people to migrate to el Norte. Mario, in the video above, is one example of this type.
In addition to those, there are newer migrants to Latin America who may have wanted to use citizenship and capital gained in Latin America as a stepping stone to eventual migration to the US. Steve Li, a San Francisco student who was scheduled to be deported in 2010, is an example of this type. He was to be deported to his birthplace of Peru, where he knew no one. His parents were citizens of China and were to be deported there. A movement to stop Li’s deportation (part of the broader mobilization for the DREAM Act, which would give a certain set of undocumented youth access to higher education and a pathway to US citizenship) was successful, but his situation was far from resolved. There has been no media coverage of this case since then, so if you know any more details, please let me know.
Another “hidden” group of Asians in the US who are at risk for deportation are Cambodian Americans who were born abroad. Cambodians in the US often live in impoverished communities where crime and violence are rampant and sweep up youth looking for an alternative path to mobility. Many of these youth do not have US citizenship, so if they end up in the criminal justice system they are subject to deportation to a land they do not know: