The participation rates of Asian immigrants eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program are low, particularly compared to immigrants from many Spanish-speaking countries.
For example, as of August, there were 30 active Vietnamese DACA recipients, according to data compiled by the Migration Policy Institute.
MPI estimates there are 5,000 DACA-eligible Vietnamese immigrants, meaning less than 1 percent of eligible immigrants from Vietnam participate in DACA. In comparison, Mexican immigrants have a 68 percent participation rate, with more than half a million people enrolled as of August. Honduran immigrants have 63 percent participation, with more than 16.6 thousand enrollees.
There is a confluence of factors that explain this disparity, experts say, ranging from language barriers to structural issues that make it more difficult for Latinx immigrants to receive permanent status.
DACA is a program that grants deferred action to immigrants who were illegally brought into the United States at a young age. Participants must renew their DACA status every two years, and program applications are accepted and statuses expire on a rolling basis.
— Southern Poverty Law Center (@splcenter) July 3, 2019
Court challenges have thus far roadblocked a Trump administration repeal of the program. Those who were previously enrolled are allowed to reapply, but new enrollment is not open for the program.
Vietnam isn’t the only Asian country that sees low DACA enrollment. Both China and Thailand have DACA participation rates of 3 percent, according to MPI.
Jannette Diep, the executive director of Boat People SOS-Houston, attributed the lower DACA enrollment of those from Vietnam partly to the language barrier and how some Vietnamese people view the government of their home country, which in the past has caused many to seek refuge in other countries following the end of the Vietnam War and the fall of Saigon in 1975.
BPSOS provides a wide range of services and programs to immigrants and refugees from Vietnam and other countries. Diep, a refugee from Vietnam herself, arrived in the United States with her parents and two brothers in the early ‘80s.
“When you first come into a country, language barrier is a huge thing,” she said.
Diep said language barriers make it harder for U.S. newcomers to do things like find a job, seek medical care and enroll their kids into school.
“[I see a pattern where] the parents are unable to help the child get through school because they’re not understanding the language, so they can’t help them with homework, they’re unable to communicate with the teachers,” she said.
“That was very similar to what I was experiencing when I first into the United States, and I see the same pattern even today.”
Diep said schools will call her organization asking for assistance in translating and mediating the needs of the students and parents who are not able to speak English well.
Vietnamese immigrants are less likely to be proficient in English than the overall foreign-born population, according to MPI.
Diep said the most common way Vietnamese immigrants become undocumented in the U.S. is staying in the country past when their legal status expires, rather than crossing the border illegally.
Randy Capps, the director of research for U.S. programs at MPI, said this is a factor in the low DACA participation from countries like Vietnam because the rules for people who overstayed visas are not as strict, meaning it’s much easier for them to get green cards, he said.
“DACA is a temporary status. Some people in Asian communities who are undocumented have a better chance of getting an actual green card [than immigrants from other countries],” he said.
“You’re less likely to want DACA because you have better options.”
There is a large proportion of legal residents in the Asian community, said Capps, which increases the possibility of a person who is living in the U.S. unauthorized to marry those who are here legally.
Capps also said there is more targeted enforcement by immigration authorities against people from Mexico and Central America who live in the U.S. illegally, giving those groups more incentive to enroll in DACA.
While there is a lot of Spanish-based activism for DACA enrollment, he said there is less activism for immigrants who speak other languages.
Former President Barack Obama created DACA with an executive branch memorandum in 2012. In 2017, the Trump administration announced the repeal of DACA. Trump called it an “amnesty-first approach” and urged Congress to come up with a DACA solution.
“There can be no path to principled immigration reform if the executive branch is able to rewrite or nullify federal laws at will,” Trump said in a statement when the repeal was announced.
The Supreme Court will review DACA on November 12.
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