Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Chinese Immigrants: Yesterday and Today

Chinese immigrants first came to the U.S. in significant numbers more than a century and a half ago—mainly as low-skilled male laborers who mined, farmed, did laundry, ran restaurants, and built the railroads. They endured generations of officially sanctioned racial prejudice—including regulations that prohibited the immigration of Asian women; the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which barred all new immigration from China; and both the Immigration Act of 1917 and the National Origins Act of 1924, which extended the immigration ban to include virtually all of Asia. (Pew Social Trends)

While "Asian Americans are the highest-income, best-educated and fastest-growing racial group in the United States. They are more satisfied than the general public with their lives, finances and the direction of the country, and they place more value than other Americans do on marriage, parenthood, hard work and career success," those from China, Korea, and  Vietnam are less fortunate than most Americans. Those from Japan, India, and the Philippines have a lower share living in poverty than the average American.

"The Japanese are the only group that is majority U.S. born (73% of the total population and 68% of adults); all other subgroups [of Asians] are majority foreign born."

Today, the Chinese diaspora in the US includes 4.01 million Chinese or roughly a quarter of America's Asian population. Only half of Chinese Americans are affiliated with a religion. We can, therefore, conclude that more than 2 million people of Chinese extraction came to America during their lifetime. Why did they come? Why were more than 700,000 immigrants born in Mainland China and Hong Kong granted green cards between 2001 and 2010?
  • More than one in ten employment-based green cards went to Chinese immigrants in 2010.
  • Chinese nationals received more asylum grants than any other nationality in 2010.
  • The People's Republic of China was the third most common birthplace for lawful permanent residents in 2010.
  • In 2010, roughly 1 percent of all unauthorized immigrants in the United States were from China.
These statistics contradict a conversation that I had yesterday with a highly-educated Chinese citizen. He portrayed most Chinese immigrants as people from specific villages in Fujian Province and Canton (interestingly, he did not call it Guangzhou, which is its Chinese name) who sneak in the way that Alex Kotlowitz's story in a New York Times' sponsored teen magazine describes. He told me about how people in Northern China, where he is from, have more value on education and that these villagers cannot read. (This kind of snobbery is rampant in the Northeast of the United States and, as a bona fide Brahmin, I find it bemusing rather than offensive. If I was from Alabama or Sichuan, I might not.)

In fact, as a whole Chinese Americans are high educational achievers. Even in the 1980 and 1990 Census "levels of educational attainment among Chinese Americans were significantly higher than those of the general U.S. population." It is true that in 2010, 62.8 percent of Chinese immigrants age 5 and older were limited English proficient (LEP), meaning that they reported speaking English less than "very well." However, LEP is not always a measure of education, but of how well you speak and where you learned. In the case of many Asians, since it is a self-assessment, the numbers may also be skewed by a higher incidence of humility! There are plenty of educated people who don't speak good English...or, rather, speak English well.

Kotlowitz is a respected and, in my view, highly respectable social critic. He did a service in this article by calling attention to "child trafficking" and describing how some illegal immigrants cheat the system, but I think he would be disappointed if he knew that his article was being misconstrued as the typical Chinese immigrants' story. Chinese immigrants were less likely than immigrants overall in 2010 to obtain lawful permanent residence through family-based channels. Among those immigrants from Mainland China and Hong Kong who obtained lawful permanent residence in 2010, a bit more than half (54.2 percent) did so through family-based routes, compared to about two-thirds (66.3 percent) of immigrants overall. Perhaps, Eastern Europeans and Sub-Saharan Africans are better at hustling in the rest of their clan than Chinese, but there is little evidence to support my friends' conclusions from our wide-ranging QQ chat-session yesterday. His claim that the Chinese are successfully whisking their families to America is not belied by the evidence:
MY FRIEND: Most of the Chinese immigrants are in the US ...are from Canton or Fujian province: peasants..who barely just finish 9th grade..they a lot of money to get smuggled into the Chinatowns in the US and work in the restaurants...after they land, they fake their stories in order to get asylum green cards..or something through fake marriages once they get their greens..they bring their whole family. 
ME: on what do you base this "fact"? 
MY FRIEND: And you don't know .. I thought you did.. Every Chinese in America knows 
My friend further painted a picture of most Chinese immigrants getting into America through using the schemes proposed by the crooked lawyers in this article: Immigration Fraud Investigation leads to Bust by FBI on East Broadway. He quoted, "To perpetuate these schemes, the law firms made up stories of persecution that often followed one of three fact patterns: (a) forced abortions performed pursuant to China’s family planning policy; (b) persecution based on the client’s belief in Christianity; or (c) political or ideological persecution, typically for membership in China’s Democratic Party or against followers of Falun Gong." These lawyers, in addition to perpetrating fraud or encouraging clients to do so, prayed on the worst fears of Americans about China. That said, a handful of lawyers encouraging fraud does not legitimately constitute the immigration policy of the United States. Most Chinese people are not pretending to be part of the Local Church or Falun Gong, feigning an abortion or waving their China Democratic Party credentials to get residency in America.

That a young Chinese man who attended a prestigious college in Boston could hold these views, speaks as much to the failures of media as it does to the indoctrination, propaganda, and rumor-mongering of both world powers' governments and educational systems. 

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