By Jon D. Melegrito
U.S. Rep. Mike Honda (8th from left) poses with Asian American and Pacific Islander activists in front of Capitol Hill, following his press conference introducing the Reuniting Families Act. (PINOY PHOTO by Jon Melegrito)
March Madness isn’t all about basketball. Here in the nation’s capital, it’s about the presidential campaign and how it’s animating voters, bringing out so much anger and rage, consequently deepening partisan conflicts in ways that are simply maddening.
Like the obstructionism among Republican Senate leaders who have refused to hold hearings on a Supreme Court nominee. To his credit, Republican Senator Mark Kirk is putting pressure on members of his own party “to quit playing games and do their job.” He told them to “Just man up and cast a vote.”
Then there’s the obstinacy of House Republicans who continue to thwart any measure to reform the country’s broken immigration system, or block every attempt by the President to grant immigration relief. On March 17, House Republicans voted in support of the State of Texas’ suit against the President’s lawful immigration actions. Illinois Rep. Schakowsky took her Republican colleagues to task for once again “fanning the flames of anti-immigrant rhetoric with their House vote.” In a statement, she defended President Obama’s lawful immigration actions, noting that he has the same legal authority used by every president since Dwight D. Eisenhower to enforce our immigration laws. She added: “Instead of using this valuable House floor time to pass comprehensive immigration reform to make our country safer and boost our economy, our colleagues have once again resorted to partisan stunts and stoking fear and hate.”
On the same day the House voted on this anti-immigrant measure, U.S. Rep. Mike Honda (D-San Jose), introduced a bill that would essentially keep families together instead of tearing them apart. The Reuniting Families Act (RFA), is designed to cut the backlog causing the separation of 4.4 million family members from U.S. citizens and green card holders.
Honda’s proposal would also lessen other restrictions on family-based immigration, reduce the backlog of immigrant spouses and children, set a 10-year maximum wait for a green card, and grant same-sex couples the same opportunities as others to sponsor a foreign-born spouse for a visa.
“Our family-based immigration system has not been updated in 20 years, separating spouses, children and their parents, who have played by the rules for years,” Honda said in a news release. He noted that Filipinos are among those who wait the longest for a visa to be approved, up to 22 years in many cases.
A week earlier, Asian American activists stood in front of the Supreme Court to call attention to the Texas suit, a case affecting the lives of millions of undocumented immigrants waiting for the implementation of the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) and expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA+) programs.
Regina Ledesma, a Filipino American DACA recipient and a student at the University of Maryland, spoke about “living my life on the edge” because she didn’t know about President Obama’s immigration relief policies. She said there are many others living in the shadows. “Our liberation is tied to the struggles of everyone. If one part of our community falls, the whole community falls.” Ledesma is working as a fellow with the National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEK). The organization held a “Listening Session” for undocumented Asian American and Pacific Islanders at the University of Maryland on March 26.
The issue of “Comfort Women” was the topic of a conference held March 1 at the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) and Asia Policy Point. Among the panelists is Filipino American writer-activist Evelina Galang, a professor of creative writing at the University of Miami.
Attended by more than 70 activists and advocates, scholars and students and policy makers, the six-hour discussion on “Unfinished Apologies: Imperial Japan’s Sex Slaves of Wartime Asia,” provided an overview of how the system of sex slavery came to be and how it was managed.
“The issue of comfort women has yet to be resolved fully,” said Jae Ku, director of the US-Korea Institute, in his opening remarks. “It’s still a modern tragedy and a human rights crisis.”
Historical documents put the total figure of “comfort women” at about 400,000 in comfort stations scattered all over Asia. Women, aged 14 to 30, from China, East Timor, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Philippines and Taiwan were also forced to become military slaves.
Galang personally met with 40 Filipina comfort women when she went to the Philippines in 1998. She has since interviewed 15 of the women for her forthcoming book, “Lolas’ House: Women Living With War.”
“My role as a writer is to share their stories, because they teach us something about humanity and how we treat one another, so it doesn’t happen again,” she pointed out.