Dr. Clarence Lam – District 12 State Delegate
In response to inquiries that I have received and in order to avoid misrepresentation or misunderstanding of my opinion, I would like to share with you my position on sanctuary status legislation. Please feel free to share the following message with others in the Asian American community.
Over the last few weeks, as a “sanctuary county” bill is hotly debated locally (Howard County-CB9) and as I see thousands protest against an illegal immigration ban nationally, I am disturbed by the lack of support from the Asian American community for other populations of color or national decent. As the only Asian American elected official in Howard County and one of only two Chinese Americans serving in the Maryland General Assembly, I feel obliged to take a longer view and broader perspective on the issue of immigration and “sanctuary” status. And as a leader within the Asian American community, I feel compelled to speak out in support of sanctuary protections in an instance where so few have.
For me, this topic is personal. Some 50 years ago, my late grandfather stepped off a boat onto American soil after a long, arduous journey. Like so many undocumented, he worked tirelessly, barely earning a livable wage while enduring long, hard hours at manual labor. Were it not for the opportunities he was afforded to achieve the American Dream, I would not be here representing you in the Maryland General Assembly.
And so my message to the Asian American community is this: if you are fighting these sanctuary measures, you are not only denying future generations of Asian Americans the chances that you’ve had to reach the American Dream, but you are doing so at your own peril. This opposition is short-sighted, and this is why:
Right now, sitting in the luxury of our own homes, it’s easy to frame this in the context of “us” (the Asian American community) and “them” (predominantly the Latino community, but others as well). This is easy to do because most of the undocumented people that we see locally in Maryland are Latinos.
Undoubtedly, it can be difficult for many Asian Americans here in Maryland to relate to “them.” The vast majority of Asian Americans live in Montgomery County (highest median family income in the state) and Howard County (second highest median household income of any county in the country). As a result, most Asian Americans in Maryland are insulated. In fact, we are the exception in the U.S.—there are millions of Asian Americans throughout the country who are not living in the privileged and high wealth communities that we are.
But the truth is: while “they” are not “us” right now, we could soon be “them.” Thus, the outpouring of animosity and anger that we’re seeing now (even among some Asian Americans) could continue to turn towards us.
Don’t believe me? Here’s the evidence:
In this environment of heightened racial tensions spawned by reckless federal actions, local racial profiling of Asian Americans has already started. Just a week ago, the Baltimore Sun reported that an Indian American citizen who lived in her community for decades was stopped and asked about her immigration status while walking in her neighborhood by local police in Bel Air, Harford County, who were responding to a report of a “suspicious person.” As this incident made clear, deputizing local police as immigration officials will only exacerbate racial profiling of Asian Americans.
While attention has been focused on the Latino community as the source of the nation’s “immigration problem,” that attention will soon turn towards the Asian American community making incidents like that in Bel Air all the more common. In fact, immigration from Asian nations has now surpassed immigration from Latin America. While the sheer number of Latinos still surpasses that of Asian Americans, our rapidly rising rate of immigration means that, in our lifetimes, we will likely see the Asian American population surpass that of the Latino population in actual number. Once that happens, the hostility towards “them” will be aimed at “us,” and our children’s children will experience the immigrant wrath that we are seeing today.
Much of the current ill will is directed at the undocumented. The fact that the current undocumented population is largely Latino masks the data showing that there are 1.5 million undocumented Asian Americans living in the U.S. The actual figures should be a wakeup call to our community: There has been a 43% increase in undocumented Chinese immigrants, 94% increase in Indian immigrants, and 31% increase in undocumented Koreans in just the period from 2000 to 2011. Today, with nearly 60% of Asian Americans being foreign-born (the highest percentage of any racial group), the shocking reality is that Chinese Americans, Korean Americans, and Indian Americans are the fastest-growing groups of undocumented immigrants.
Again, Asian Americans in Maryland are insulated from this reality because we live in high income, highly educated communities where few undocumented can afford to live. But just across the border in Virginia, there are 60,000 undocumented Asian Americans, which comprises nearly a quarter (24%) of all of the undocumented in the state. And the numbers are similar in other states with large populations of Asian Americans: In New York, 195,000 Asian Americans are undocumented representing 22% of the undocumented in the state. In Washington, it’s 39,000 (18% of the undocumented in the state). In New Jersey, it’s 102,000 (19%), and in California, it’s 412,000 (13%).
Over time, what we see and experience here in Maryland will change as immigration patterns shift and move, and I have no doubt that the number of undocumented Asian Americans in our state will rise. And when that day comes, the same opponents of sanctuary measures who are fighting “them” now, will be fighting “us” then.
That’s why I believe foes of sanctuary measures are focusing narrowly and missing the longer-term picture. For now, these are self-serving measures of “keeping them out,” but they will be self-defeating later when the bullseye inevitably turns to us.
I do recognize that there are some Asian Americans supporting sanctuary protections, and I appreciate their encouragement. But the most vocal Asian American voices on this topic locally have been the opposition.
I’ve heard these critics say, “well, I’m not being helped [by sanctuary protections],” and while true today, that’s self-serving. To be concerned about only oneself at the expense of the broader community and our future generations—that’s the definition of being shortsighted and selfish. Until our community recognizes that we need to band together with other immigrant populations and that there are larger issues for our community outside of our own self-interests that we need to work together on, we won’t have the unified voice and thus respect that our community deserves. And that’s self-defeating.
I have had Latinos come to my office in Annapolis asking me “what’s wrong with the Asian American community? Why don’t they support this [sanctuary status]? Don’t they see that this could be them?” And I’m embarrassed to have to admit to them that “no, they [the Asian American opponents] have let themselves be overcome by fear and resentment”—with falsehoods that crime will go up (untrue), that they don’t pay taxes (untrue), that they use more government resources (untrue), that they contribute nothing to the community (untrue), that sanctuary measures could jeopardize federal funding (unconstitutional), that sanctuary measures will only help them and won’t ever benefit the Asian American community (self-centered and shortsighted), and the notion that “I arrived here the right way, and they did not” (remember the 1.5 million and rapidly growing undocumented Asian American population?). For all of these reasons, I’m deeply disappointed in those vocal Asian American critics of sanctuary status.
And that’s why I stand with my brothers and sisters—African Americans, Latinos, other Asian Americans, and many communities of color—today to be on the right side of history. I am honored to be part of a statement in support of sanctuary status with fellow legislators from Howard County, proud to be a co-sponsor of several sanctuary bills to be introduced in the Maryland General Assembly, and pleased that the Asian American Legislative Caucus has joined with the Black and Latino Caucuses in Annapolis in support of these measures.
After all, do you want them to come to your support when it’s you being targeted, your children, or your children’s children? Because that day will come, and it is my hope that future generations of Asian Americans will be protected by the measures that we adopt today.
Clarence Lam, MD, MPH
State Delegate, District 12
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