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U.S. Is Home To 1.5 Million Undocumented Asian Immigrants


When we hear, over these past weeks, from undocumented workers, almost all of them are Latino. And though Latinos are the vast majority, unauthorized immigrants come from lots of other places, including Asia. Muzaffar Chishti is an immigration attorney and head of the Migration Policy Institute's New York office. He says the U.S. is home to about one and a half million undocumented Asian immigrants.

MUZAFFAR CHISHTI: The top four Asian countries of the unauthorized are China, India, Philippines and Korea. And they all probably have the same patterns. Most of them arrive either on a student visa or on a visitor's visa or on a work visa. And that's typically - a visitor's visa is given to you for six months. And after six months, you choose not to return. And then you decide to stay on here, and you try to get a job. And you try to get a job working on someone else's Social Security number or with no Social Security number at all in the underground economy and then hope that you'll find some ways of legalizing your status.

MONTAGNE: And when you say stays on, stays on where, generally speaking?

CHISHTI: The top states in the country of the unauthorized Asian populations are California and New York, New Jersey and Texas. It's closely then followed by Illinois, Virginia and Georgia. So that's the pattern. So it's the traditional gateway immigrant states but also slightly now converging onto places like Virginia and Georgia.

MONTAGNE: A little over two years ago, President Obama offered work permits and protection from deportation to young people brought here by their families illegally as children. Now, you have found there at the Migration Policy Institute that Asian youth are far less likely to apply for deportation reprieve than Latinos. Why?

CHISHTI: Well, I mean, we must caution by saying that we really don't know. These are our best guesses. One is the stigma attached to the illegality. And so people just hide it from each other frequently, even from their families. That's why I think there is less widespread acknowledgment that there are unauthorized people in the Asian population.

But in terms of the participation in the program, I think it is determined by your need. And the need may be determined by whether you want to be able to work. And if you're in school, then you have less need to seek a work permit than if you were looking for a job. And if you live in communities where the constant threat of deportation is not as active as it's in Latino communities, the chances of you feeling the compelling need to apply is much less than, you know, if you're in Latino communities where the fear of being picked up is much higher.

MONTAGNE: Muzaffar Chishti is with the Migration Policy Institute. Thank you very much.

CHISHTI: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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