The Asian Journal recently interviewed Attorney Betty Chu who is the President of the Organization of Chinese Americans (Orange County Chapter), to discuss her recent trip to the nation's capital as part of a few selected to meet with members of Congress including Congressman Mike Honda (15th District of California which cover Silicon Valley), Congressman Xavier Becerra (31st District of California which covers the City of Los Angeles), Congresswoman Mazie Hirono (2nd District of Hawaii), and Former Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta.
AJ: Congratulations on being one of a few selected to meet the political movers and shakers in D.C. Tell us about your involvement.
Betty Chu: Thank you, it was an honor. I am the President of the Organization of Chinese Americans (OCA - Orange County Chapter), a national organization dedicated to advancing the social, political and economic well-being of Asian Pacific Americans. It is the first national Asian Pacific American organization to establish headquarters in Washington, D.C. Each year, they select community leaders from across the nation to attend a joint leadership conference with other groups to build coalitions around issues affecting Asian Pacific Americans. This was a great opportunity to meet with political leaders to discuss federal and legislative initiatives and policies relevant to our community - this will be an interesting year on immigration reform issues.
AJ: What are some of the current issues in immigration reform relevant to our community?
Betty Chu: Well the majority of Asians immigrating to the U.S. do so through the family immigration system. Yet, family members of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents are forced to wait years, even decades to be reunited with their families. Any comprehensive immigration reform should address the backlog issue and focus on family reunification.
Another issue is the legalization of hard-working undocumented immigrants. There is a huge discrepancy between the number of legal visas available for these workers and the number of jobs that are available. There has been little constructive change or reform in immigration laws since the passage of IIRIRA in 1996 - 1997. Now the business community is starting to get behind efforts to create foreign worker status, raise caps on employment based categories.
The path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants is also an important issue. A lot of Asians in our community remain undocumented yet are leading productive lives and contributing to the economy. There are many reasons why individuals become "undocumented immigrants" - they fall out of status after student visas or employment-based visas expire; illegal immigration is often the result of long backlogs in the family-based immigration.
Historically, various segments of the Asian American Pacific Islander community have been targeted for our country's economic and political problems, from the exclusion of Chinese laborers in the 19th century to the World War II internment of Japanese Americans, to the post 9-11 Special Registration Program targeting South Asian and Muslim men.
AJ: What were some of the highlights from the D.C. Conference?
Betty Chu: We met members of Congress who are working on the issues of Filipino veterans. We met leaders from the Federal Communications Commission, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Justice to discuss Asian and Pacific Islander issues. We had dinner with Congresswoman Mazie Hirono (from Hawaii), lunch with EEOC Commissioner Stuart Ishimaru, dinner with Former Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta and his lovely wife Deni.
Secretary Mineta is the first Asian American cabinet member during the Clinton administration and the first Cabinet member to switch directly from a Democratic to a Republican Cabinet.
I was particularly touched by a story that Secretary Mineta shared with us over dinner. He was telling a few of us at his table that he regularly visits a barber shop where a man from Ghana would polish his shoes. One day as he was leaving the shop, the shoe polisher came running after him calling "Mr. Secretary, wait." He told Secretary Mineta that he was going back to Ghana to build a water plant for the government since he had an engineering degree. Secretary Mineta said he was completely shocked that this man from Ghana with an engineering degree was simply polishing shoes all these years! Apparently he couldn't get a work visa and so was just trying to make a living.
For many immigrants, my parents included, checked their degrees and pride at the port of entry in order to make a living in the U.S. While many were successful in their careers back in their country, most end up taking on minimum wage jobs in the U.S. It's amazing the sacrifices people make in order to provide for their family and children.
AJ: What is your background and how did you become interested in immigration law?
Betty Chu: My family immigrated to the U.S. more than two decades ago when I was only eight years old. Not only did my parents give up their successful careers in government and education, they also left behind their family and friends in Taiwan when they embarked upon this "Land of Opportunity." My parents struggled with the language and cultural barriers so that their children could one day live the "American Dream." Along the immigration journey, my parents rolled up their sleeves and worked as a nanny, a waitress, a cook to keep our family going; never looking back at their prior professions as the Principal of a successful kindergarten in Taipei (my mom) and as the City's Tax Auditor with a degree in law (my dad).
Today, my parents can proudly say that their sacrifices paid off: They have one daughter working as a Licensing Representative for the State of California (Alcoholic Beverage Control), another daughter working as Business Tax Representative for the State Board of Equalization, a son working as a Marketing Manager, and myself as an Immigration Attorney.
I went to UCLA with a degree in Mass Communications and later entered Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. While in law school, I had the opportunity to clerk at the Asian Pacific American Legal Center where I assisted low-income immigrants with their legal issues. I also clerked at the California Attorney General's Office assisting Deputy Attorney Generals in defending the State of California. I joined Wilner & O'Reilly in 2005 and I love what I'm doing -- helping others in their pursuit of the "American Dream."
AJ: What general advice would you give to immigrants and their families?
Believe in the American Dream and learn the language. While it may be harder for older immigrants to learn English, the younger immigrants should learn as much as possible to help their parents along. It will ease the process when you know where to look for help. Unfortunately, many immigrants become victims of unethical immigration consultants and notarios who seem to charge substantially less than attorneys. The truth is, you get probably what you pay for. A trusted attorney who believes in your case and has experience with your type of case is the best bet.
AJ: Thank you for your time Attorney Chu. We know we'll be seeing more of you in the not too distant future. Until then, keep up the fight for Asian Pacific Islander community!