To those of us who fear the unbridled power of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, small businessman Chef Chai Chaowasaree is a symbol for rich and poor immigrants alike. The cause of Chef Chai, who faces deportation for entering a sham marriage to stay in the United States, should speak not only to Asian Americans, but also to mainstream Republicans and Democrats.
INS discriminates against
Hawaii clearly does not have an Asian "illegal immigrant" problem. According to INS estimates, as few as 10 percent or less of Hawaii's alleged "illegal immigrants" are Asian, a minuscule number given Hawaii's large Asian-American population that has contributed so greatly to Hawaii and America.
Yet the INS gives no quarter to close relatives of Hawaii's Asian Americans, most particularly those of Filipino, Thai, Korean, Cambodian, Laotian or Vietnamese descent.
Many Asian Americans are cruelly separated from family members for ridiculous reasons or live in fear of the near-arbitrary power of the INS over them. Any immigrant can be arrested and imprisoned after being falsely accused of being "illegal" or for being accused of committing a relatively minor infraction of the law.
For reasons of fear or for cultural reasons of perceived shame, they do not protest when their relatives are dragged away or otherwise unjustly treated here or in their home country.
As an example, a resident alien was a janitor, a job many Americans would not take. A married daughter and many other close relatives living in Hawaii are U.S. citizens. In our local highly intermarried society such a person is in a very real sense related to all of us.
Yet, after he suffered a debilitating stroke, the INS prevented another unmarried daughter in the Philippines from visiting him to lend the care and support she would give if she were here. Why? Because she is poor -- her assets are few. If she were from a rich country, she would have been given a visa in a flash.
The INS was afraid she would try to immigrate legitimately once she is here. So what's the big deal? She has an extended family of U.S. citizens here. She has a bachelor's degree in elementary education -- just the kind of person we need in Hawaii. The INS says it is just "following rules." Yet, those rules give it power to decide such situations either way.
With many of Hawaii's Asian Americans voting in lock step with the Democrats, you would think our senators and representatives would have brought about some changes in our Hawaii situation. Why is the INS noose pulled so tightly around the necks of relatives of Hawaii's Asian Americans? Our relatives are getting the short end of the stick. At a minimum our relatives should not come under the harsh jurisdiction of San Diego judges, who are acting on the basis of issues that have nothing to do with Hawaii.
It's time our congressional delegation did something about this unjust situation instead of responding like powerless information officers for the INS.
David Lundquist is president of Hardware Hawaii in Kailua.