Statement from Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles
December 27, 2016
Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles is concerned that multiple stories have appeared in Chinese language media that misrepresent our organization, our work, and our positions, particularly on the complex issue of affirmative action. We issue the following statement to clarify what we do and what we stand for:
Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles (Advancing Justice-LA) was founded in 1983 as the Asian Pacific American Legal Center. Our core mission is to protect and defend the legal and civil rights of Asian American, Pacific Islander, and other vulnerable communities. Since our founding, Advancing Justice-LA has been a leader in fighting for Asian American and Pacific Islander communities on issues such as hate crimes, immigration, health care, employment, and education, helping thousands of individuals every year. As a pan-ethnic organization, we serve ethnic communities with roots across Asia and the Pacific region, including but not limited to immigrants from China. As a social justice organization, we prioritize the most vulnerable in our community, such as ethnic groups who face great socio-economic disadvantages such as former Southeast Asian refugees or Pacific Islander communities.
Although we do not focus exclusively on the Chinese community, we have worked significantly to protect and advance the rights of Chinese Americans over the years. Our first case was the hate crime case of Vincent Chin, a Chinese American killed in an anti-Japanese attack in Detroit in 1982. His killers received only light fines and we worked with Vincent’s mother, Lily Chin, for years as she sought justice for her son. We also helped Kenny Chiu’s family after his killing by a white supremacist neighbor in Laguna Hills, helping to pass a state law that created additional protections for the families of hate crimes victims. We have successfully challenged business fraud that exploited Chinese community members, from car dealerships to art schools. Over the years, we have also helped Chinese immigrant workers claim hundreds of thousands of dollars in wages owed by unscrupulous employers. Most recently, we worked closely with the family of Professor Xiaoxing Xi, a Chinese American scientist who has challenged the racial profiling that led to his false arrest for espionage. On a daily basis, we provide legal assistance to limited English speaking immigrants, and our Chinese line is often the busiest of our seven legal lines.
In recent years, a clear division has emerged within the Asian American – and specifically Chinese American – community on the issue of affirmative action, which is the consideration of racial disadvantage as one of many factors in college admissions, hiring, and contracting. Advancing Justice-LA stands firmly in support of affirmative action – but it is a complex issue and unfortunately, our position and arguments are often misrepresented. The following are the points we believe are most important to clarify:
Advancing Justice-LA opposes a ceiling on Asian American student admission. Such caps are discriminatory and illegal quotas, but they are separate and distinct from affirmative action. Under Supreme Court rulings (most recently in June 2016), affirmative action is a very limited concept that allows universities to consider race as just one of many factors to create a diverse campus and evaluate future potential that can benefit any student, including Asian Americans. We oppose quotas on and discrimination against Asian Americans, but we support affirmative action.
Existing data does not support the conclusion that Asian Americans are harmed by affirmative action. In 1996, California passed Proposition 209, which banned any consideration of race in University of California admissions. In the years that followed, Asian American enrollment at UC campuses jumped -- but it was not a result of Prop 209. Instead, Asian American enrollment at UCs grew as a result of tremendous growth in the Asian American community during the same period. More important to understanding the impact of Prop 209 is the Asian American admittance rate (proportion of Asian American applicants who are admitted) -- it has declined since affirmative action was banned in California, meaning that eliminating the consideration of race has not helped (and may have harmed) Asian American applicants to the UCs. In addition, the Princeton study that is frequently cited as “proof” that Asian American applicants need to score higher on standardized tests than other racial groups is widely misinterpreted. Any test score gap between Asian and other students is not related to affirmative action because the same test score gaps exist whether a university considers race in its admissions policy or not. The author of the study has even stated that his study does not establish anti-Asian bias.
In fact, Asian and Chinese Americans benefit from affirmative action – Although created largely to remedy past discrimination against African Americans, affirmative action has opened doors since the 1970s for many Asian Americans, including Chinese Americans, in education, employment, and contracting. Today, Chinese in the U.S. continue to face racism in society (e.g., rising anti-Chinese hate crimes) and discrimination in the workplace, and affirmative action is needed to break through the bamboo ceiling that keeps many Asian and Chinese Americans from ascending to the highest echelons of business and government. In addition, race-conscious policies benefit less privileged Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, such as Southeast Asians, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders who have much lower rates of education than Chinese Americans.
More Asian and Chinese Americans support than oppose affirmative action – Finally, while opinion amongst Asian Americans is split on affirmative action, public opinion polling consistently shows a majority of Asian Americans – including a majority of Chinese Americans – support it.
In California, Advancing Justice-LA has successfully fought for more UC seats – Fighting over affirmative action in California is a “red herring” because Prop 209 banned the consideration of race in 1996. For anyone disappointed by not being accepted to a UC, blame years of disinvestment that has deprived the UCs of critical funding and limited enrollment. In June, the Governor signed legislation that we championed, to improve college access and readiness for all California students and to expand enrollment slots at the UCs. This will increase opportunities for Asian American as well as other students to be admitted to a UC campus, and we welcome working with other Asian and Chinese Americans to further expand opportunities in higher education.
For a Chinese version, click here.