What? Asian Pacific American (APA) Population and Deferred Action?

Note: certain terms with asterisk are defined at the bottom!

Work has begun! The title to this blog post is one of the very first questions I asked myself this week.  My first assignment as an intern at Scholarships A-Z* was to conduct research on the subject “undocumented APA students and DACA*” and help my supervisor Matt draft an article for a newsletter.

Whenever I thought of the contemporary immigration debate, I had always connected the issue to the Latino immigrant population in the U.S.  The combination of APA population and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) seemed rather foreign, as I had never linked immigration legislature like DACA to APAs.

Thus I quickly was able to narrow the scope of the research based on my question, “Why are APAs often, if not always, excluded from DACA conversations in the media?”

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) provided a straightforward answer – that the great majority of DACA recipients are Latino population.  Given that only 3.71 % of the DACA recipients thus far come from Asian countries, the media’s spotlight on the Latino population, especially Mexicans who comprise of 79.1% of the DACA recipients thus far, made absolute sense.

Nonetheless, such numerical answer did not satisfy me and I carried on research.  At one point, I encountered two very similar documentary films titled “The Dream is Now” and “A Dream A Part”.  The former film featured four undocumented Mexican students’ and one undocumented Albanian student’s life stories which have been directly affected by the broken immigration system.  The latter portrayed similar stories, except that the subjects were five undocumented students from Asian and Pacific Island nations.  Despite the similarities that all undocumented studies have faced painful obstacles and have been fighting for the passage of a comprehensive immigration reform, I found myself a lot less sympathetic towards the undocumented APA students.

I was startled at my apathy; if anything, I thought I would be more sympathetic towards the latter film because I am Asian American.  Perhaps, my privileged upbringings as a U.S. citizen made it difficult to relate to the five undocumented APA students.  Perhaps, my lack of awareness of undocumented APA students in American society caused indifference.  In the end, I was able to deduce the cause of my reaction to one primary root, the “Model Minority Myth”.

The Model Minority Myth is a socially constructed (mis)perception that a specific minority group, especially APA population in the U.S., is more successful than the population average regarding their income, education, family stability, and health. However, I was able to debunk this myth. Contrary to the myth that APA population is heavily concentrated in selective universities, I discovered that the largest concentration of APA students is in community colleges.  Furthermore, 35 to 40% of the South Eastern Asian population in the U.S. does not finish high school.  Even when APAs achieve a certain degree of higher education, the majority works in the labor market’s secondary sector and when they do work in the primary sector, they are often located in the lower tier-levels.  Given the APA majority’s social positions, their wages are low. In addition, APAs lacks presence in higher-level administration, management, and executive positions.

Although I initially doubted the relevance of this research, I am extremely glad to have been working on this because I now have much greater awareness about undocumented APA population in the U.S. This research has triggered multiple thoughts I had never made.

I realize that I dislike the aggregation of the Asian and Pacific Islander population.  Not only are the two groups extremely diverse, but also exist diversity of cultures within the Asian and Pacific Islander group, respectively.  As I continue researching, I keep wondering if there is anyway to disaggregate APA into two separate groups; how to spread awareness that vast discrepancies exist within different ethnic groups among Asians and Pacific Islanders; and thus finally how to include “marginalized” undocumented immigrant population in conversations about immigration reform in the news media.

Week 1 of work has surely comprised of unexpected research and intellectual stimulations!

CAPAC - Model Minority Infographic


*Scholarships A-Z is a non-profit organization that strives to “provide resources and scholarships to students, families, and educators…to make higher education accessible to all regardless of immigration status.”

*Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) is a two-year temporary relief from deportation given to undocumented immigrants who meet eligibility requirements, for instance, of having achieved a certain degree of education or having served military time in the U.S.  Therefore, DACA has provided a “legally present” residency and temporary employment authorization in the U.S.

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4 thoughts on “What? Asian Pacific American (APA) Population and Deferred Action?

  1. Bryan –

    Isn’t the reason so few Asian-Americans are in DACA because the Pacific Ocean means they cannot easily enter the country surreptitiously? In other words, they have to have a visa to begin their journey. Yes, they could get one for a third country and then try to cross the land border into the U.S., but I doubt many go that route. I suspect most who are in DACA had a visa but then overstayed it.

    You hit on a key point about the diversity of cultures and backgrounds in the APA population. I think a useful analysis would require a breakdown into more than two groups. Country of origin would be a starter, but even that can mask major differences. Korea and Japan may be more homogenous, but Laos, for example, has very different ethnic groups. The two main groups that came to the U.S. were the Hmong and the Lowland Lao. The Hmong in particular had a hard time adapting, life here being so different from everything they had been used to. My daughter’s alma mater, a small liberal arts college in the rural West, keeps trying to increase diversity in its student body. In that regard they seem to do best with Asian-Americans, and I believe most of those students come from Pacific Coast cities. I would guess very few Lao-Americans are in that group. Another descriptive the college uses in reporting progress on its unofficial affirmative action is numbers of first generation to attend college. I find that a telling statistic. What do you think?

  2. Hi Frank,

    Indeed, I agree that the geographical barrier no doubt makes it more difficult for APIs to migrate to the U.S. The most important point I hoped to convey through this blog post was the importance of awareness and acknowledgement that there are undocumented students from various countries of origin besides Latin American nations – an example being Asian Pacific American population. And for my research, I have taken a direction of analyzing the role “Model Minority Myth” plays in the media’s tendency to exclude other populations, such as the APA, discussions about DACA.

    It is not a surprise that the college continues to increase diversity in its student body by giving admissions to a minority group such as Asian-Americans. My thought on this is that when we view the statistics (demographics) that the college provides, we must critically think and process the numbers — When it says the college comprises of x % of Asian Americans, which countries of origin are they representing?
    I am not quite sure what you are asking here. But I believe that whether the action is based on affirmative action or not, giving admissions to first generation immigrants may be an attempt to either embrace diversity or truly invest in the student who has displayed remarkable abilities. (I may have misunderstood but) I think your conclusion that admissions to minority first-generation immigrants is an “unofficial affirmative action” is premature and possibly dangerous because it neglects the admitted individuals’ abilities.

    Thanks for your comments and questions!

  3. Bryan, your research sounds very interesting, especially if, as I suspect, little has been done in that area. Is that your main project while in Tucson? Not being fully versed on the Model Minority Myth, I ask if you could attribute lack of media attention to APA populations in the DACA to the small percentage (you mentioned 3.7%) more than to effects of the Myth? Is that percentage a national statistic or is it Tucson-specific? Whichever, it’s probably lower in Tucson than it is nationally.

    Sorry, I didn’t communicate well my point about students who are first generation to attend college. As I understand it, students in that category can fit any ethnic or racial category or country of origin. The sole determinant appears to be whether they are the first generation in their family to go to college. There probably is a correlation to social/economic class. I didn’t mean unofficial affirmative action in a pejorative sense. I used “unofficial” because, as far as I knows, this category is not recognized by the government. It sounds like a success to me, both for the individual and for society.

  4. Hi Frank,

    Thank you for your response and clarification. The 3.7% is a national statistic. I do not have the data regarding the proportion of APA populations among DACA recipients in Tucson, but I would guess the same. I think the lack of media attention is a plausible cause to the small percentage. The actual percentage could be higher, who knows. For the purposes of the thesis and personal interest, I took the direction of projecting the Model Minority Myth as a major cause to the lack of attention to undocumented APA population in the media. But I do agree that lack of media attention may be a factor as well. My research on APA undocumented students and DACA was my main project for the past two weeks, and now I am currently helping Scholarships A-Z, for instance, by assisting the organizing process of a DACA fundraiser.

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