The Myth of the Model Minority: Undocumented Asian Immigrants

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Asian Americans are the fastest-growing racial or ethnic group in the United States. Between 2000 and 2019, the population of Asian Americans grew by 81 percent, from 10.5 million to 18.9 million, according to Pew Research Center.

By 2060, the number of Asian-Americans in the U.S. is expected to reach 35.8 million, or more than triple that of the data from the year 2000.

The largest population of Asian Americans is in California, where 5.9 million of them reside. It was followed by New York with 1.7 million Asian Americans, Texas with 1.5 million, New Jersey with 870,000, and Illinois with 732,000. However, the rate at which the number of Asian Americans grew exceeded the overall population growth of some states. In Michigan, for example, Asian American population grew more than four times as much as the overall population of the state. New York, Illinois, and Rhode Island have also witnessed the same patterns.

The top country of origin for immigrants arriving in the U.S. every year is China, followed by India and the Philippines. By region of birth, Asian immigrants account for 28 percent of all immigrants.

Undocumented Asian Immigrant

Asians have been stereotyped as the “Model Minority:” highly-educated, hard-working, wealthy, or on their way to building wealth, law-abiding, and, most importantly, came to the U.S. legally. Yet, that is not the truth. Many Asians come to the U.S. without the necessary papers.

Out of the almost 11 million undocumented immigrants, about 1.5 million are from Asia.

People from Mexico still make up many undocumented immigrants, followed by El Salvador and Guatemala. However, 469,000 undocumented immigrants came from India, while 402,000 came from China, and 233,000 came from the Philippines. The undocumented immigrants hailing from these three countries outnumber those from Dominican Republic, Colombia, and Brazil, according to the data from 2018.

There are many reasons why Asians move to the U.S. Some of them are asylum-seekers who are escaping dangerous situations in their respective home countries. It is not easy to gain citizenship. It is a long and often confusing process. Immigrants should speak to an immigration lawyer for citizenship to aid them through the process.

But, many of them were also affected by the heightened immigration enforcement in the past four years. Thousands of Asian immigrants were arrested by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from 2015 to 2018.

In addition, Southeast Asian immigrants are more likely than other immigrant groups to be deported for old criminal convictions. Out of 16,000 final removal orders among Southeast Asians, more than 13,000 were handed removal orders based on old criminal convictions.

Unheard Minority

Visa form close up,

Now that an immigration policy reform is being pushed, the discussion should involve Asians. Latinxs are at the forefront of the debates, but Asian immigrants should never be excluded because many are affected by it, too.

Moreover, while many Americans believe that Asian Americans are well-represented in leadership positions, it is a baseless myth. The group is underrepresented in positions of power in companies, media, and, most importantly, politics. Asian Americans have the lowest representation in political office in the U.S. Even in states where there are sizable communities of Asian Americans, like in California and New York, they remain underrepresented.

The white population is, of course, overrepresented.

The problem with being undocumented and ignored is the lack of access to support. While it is not a crime to be undocumented, there are still dangers to it. Advocacy groups are worried that undocumented Asian immigrants might be afraid to reach out for help in fear that their status will be exposed. Some might not even know that there are groups ready to provide the aid they need, whether their concern is related to citizenship or something else.

Many Asian immigrants, especially younger generations, feel lonely and isolated. They hesitate to share their status, even among fellow Asians, because of the stigma surrounding being undocumented.

A Brighter Future

Things seem to be changing. In 2020, more Asian Americans turned out to vote and helped Joe Biden win the presidency. In that same year, more Asian Americans ran for political positions and won. About 158 Asian Americans ran for state legislatures during the 2020 elections, the second-highest number after the 2018 midterms.

More Asians are coming to the U.S. to be with family, to pursue their careers, to escape a dire situation in their home countries. Right now, Asian Americans are the fastest-growing racial or ethnic group across the nation, but many of them are undocumented. In the discussion around immigration reform, Asians should be included, both those who came here legally and those who did not.


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