Bush administration's focus on racism astray
August 13, 2001
The Bush administration should stop undermining the upcoming U.N. conference on racism and xenophobia. It has continually threatened a U.S. boycott of the Aug. 31 meeting, which would only serve to paint the administration as afraid to accept the responsibility of world leadership and as unwilling to address our country's own problems, past and current, on the issue of race.
Instead, President Bush should send a high-powered delegation to South Africa to show that he is willing to fully engage in the struggle for human rights and true equality in partnership with the global community.
The conference comes at a time when discrimination and violence against many minority groups are an almost daily occurrence. In July, two instances of hate crimes against Asian Americans highlighted the prevalence of racism in the United States.
In New Hampshire, an elderly Laotian man died of head trauma after a Caucasian man struck him. The assailant was heard screaming that he hated Vietnamese, and said it was time for payback for the deaths of his relatives in the Vietnam War. Ironically, the victim had fought alongside Americans as a soldier in Laos during the war.
And in Chico, Calif., a white man assaulted three Hmong men. He then stalked one for more than a week, claiming, "Vietnamese and Cambodians" should go back to their own country.
Asian Americans, like other minorities, feel the sting of racism in America. We are prime targets for hate crimes, particularly by those who blame immigrants for social and economic woes. Moreover, two-thirds of Asian Pacific Americans are newly arrived immigrants, making them even more vulnerable to attacks.
While immigrants should reasonably expect the U.S. government to protect them from violence, the unfortunate reality is that certain laws, policies and practices not only discriminate, but in some cases stimulate acts of hate against them.
In 1996, Republicans in Congress passed several anti-immigrant laws amidst public fear of terrorist threats. The hysteria peaked following the Oklahoma City bombing when the media initially speculated it was the work of Middle Eastern terrorists. Even though this belief proved unfounded, there was a lasting public backlash against persons perceived to be foreign.
A series of anti-immigration policies soon followed, which curtailed immigrants' abilities to access critical benefits, to remain in the United States, to become citizens and to sponsor family members.
And the 1996 "welfare-reform" law stripped legal immigrants of access to many of the basic safety-net programs such as Medicaid, food stamps and Supplemental Security Income.
The underlying message behind these laws was clear: immigrants are second-class citizens.
Not surprisingly, the number of reported hate crimes increased. Anti-Asian incidents, for instance, showed a significant increase between 1994 and 1999, according to research done by our organization.
The Bush administration should demonstrate its stated commitment to immigrants and minority communities in the United States by fully participating in the conference, and showing by actions, as well as words, that it is serious about addressing discrimination.
Karen K. Narasaki is president and executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium based in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.