Asian-American Groups Release National Agenda

Tired of being overlooked by politicians, a coalition of Asian-American groups says it wants the presidential candidates to highlight anti-poverty programs, immigration reform and anti-discrimination efforts in their campaigns.

Seventeen organizations worked for a year to produce a 70-page platform, being released Thursday at a news conference in Washington. They say President Bush and the Democratic presidential nominee should take notice of the document to win the potentially crucial Asian-American vote.

"This is really the first time we've come together and said we're going to make it clear that all of our communities are standing behind these issues," said Karen Narasaki (search), president of the National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium (search), a coalition member. "We felt that none of the candidates were really paying attention to our community."

Though Asians are a small percentage of the overall population — about 4 percent — they are concentrated in key electoral states such as California, Narasaki said.

The coalition's agenda calls for policies that help Asians overcome poverty, find affordable housing and get a good education and access to health care — issues important to most Americans.

The platform also strives to shatter the stereotype of Asians as "model minorities" with above average incomes, education and few serious problems.

The report notes the poverty rate in 2000 for Hmong people was 38 percent; 29 percent for Cambodians; 19 percent for Laotians and 16 percent for Vietnamese.

Other priorities include protecting affirmative action and the right to vote and fighting hate crimes and racial profiling.

"In the area of civil rights, a lot of Americans tend to think that Asian-Americans are doing well," Narasaki said. They "don't understand that our community does face discrimination in many different forms."

South Asians, in particular, were victims of racial profiling after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, she said.

The agenda also says the immigration system must be reformed: Two-thirds of Asian-Americans are foreign born.

"With the national platform, Asian-American activists are sending a message: 'You actually have to pay attention to this community,"' Narasaki said.