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Undocumented Immigrants Not Acting on Eligibility for Help

Thousands of Asian Americans eligible for DACA never applied. Will the same thing happen with the President's executive action on immigration?

More than a week after President Obama’s executive action announcement on immigration, experts are expressing concern that Asian Americans eligible to benefit from the president's plan may not do so. They base those fears on past experience -- the president's previous deferred action plan of 2012.

“The Asian-American community is severely under-represented in the numbers applied for DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] compared to the numbers we estimate would be eligible,” said Sally Kinoshita, Deputy Director of the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, to NBC News.

Out of more than 19,000 Chinese eligible, only 837 have applied based on a 2014 analysis of numbers from the Brookings Institute and the Migration Policy Institute. Kinoshita said the numbers were also especially low Filipinos -- of whom 27,000 were potentially eligible an only 3,874 applied -- and for Chinese groups.

“They may just not be getting the information to gain access,” said Kinoshita. “But they may not be sharing with their family members fully that they’re undocumented.”

Compared to the Latino population, Kinoshita said the overall awareness in Asian America that the term “undocumented” applies to them as well is much lower, particularly since many arrive legally, and then slip into undocumented status by overstaying visas. For others, she said, there’s also still a stigma attached to the term, making many in the community more secretive about their status.

“Whereas the Latino community pretty broadly speaking embraces immigrant issues, these issues relating to undocumented immigration and options available to them are not as widely embraced in the AAPI [Asian American/Pacific Islander] community,” said Kinoshita. “There’s not as much of a recognition that the undocumented are a part of our community.”

Kinoshita said she hopes for more outreach through targeted ethnic media, especially when more details on how to apply will be available early 2015.