After four years, the Obama Administration's program for immigrant youth, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, has granted temporary relief from deportation for some 700,000 young people, but advocates in Southern California say Asian immigrants lag far behind others in benefitting from the program.
"We don’t talk about undocumented-ness in our communities," said Anthony Ng, 27, a DACA recepient and policy advocate with Asian Americans Advancing Justice. "I feel like a lot of members of our communities don’t necessarily connect the idea of being undocumented with an Asian face or a Pacific Islander face."
That stigma has led to some big disparities in who is applying for the program. Only 20 percent of eligible Asian youth have applied, compared to over 80 percent of eligible Latino youth, according to estimates from AAAJ.
This week marks the four-year-anniversary of when the government first started processing applications in August 2012.
Ng was one of the first to apply, shortly after graduating from the University of California, Irvine.
"For the longest time, I didn't know what was going to happen with my life," recalled Ng, who said he went through depression after graduating.
"DACA really helped me get out of that, knowing that I would get a work permit and a stay from deportation and be able to do things that I could never do before, like get a drivers license," said Ng, who went on to help found an L.A.-based youth group for undocumented Asians and Pacific Islanders, called UPLIFT.
But the DACA program relies on executive authority from President Obama and with a change of Administration coming early next year, it's unclear what the future of the program will be. An effort to expand the program to more youth and their parents was blocked by the Supreme Court in June after a challenge from 26 states, led by Texas.
"I hope that candidates from all parties talk about immigrants in a positive way, how we contribute to the country, how we really shape the future of the nation," said Ng.
The divisive, heated rhetoric often misses a central point, he said.
"All of us come for a better life, wanting to provide for ourselves and our families."