05/27/2016 01:03 pm ET Updated May 28, 2017

This Asian American Heritage Month, We Must Honor Asian Immigrants

Co-authored by Congresswoman Grace Meng & NYIC executive director Steven Choi

This month, the United States celebrates Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month and the many contributions that Asian-American communities have made to our nation. Woven throughout AAPI history is the narrative and experience of AAPIs as immigrants - the newcomers from distant shores who were able to establish thriving, growing immigrant communities here in the United States. It is not enough to simply recognize AAPI successes; we must also honor AAPI voices and experiences in the national debate about immigration reform.

AAPIs now comprise the largest group of new immigrants each year, with those from China and India leading the way. Since 2010, immigrants from Asia outnumber those from Central or South America by nearly 50%. In New York, AAPI immigrants make up more than a quarter of the State's immigrant population, and it's estimated that immigrants from China have already overtaken the Dominican Republic as the largest new immigrant population in New York City.

Despite these facts, immigration policy debates rarely include AAPI newcomers and often overlook their needs. Our broken immigration system forces many AAPI families to wait more than a decade to be reunited with their family members abroad - nearly 25 years in the case of some Filipino immigrant families. Any effort to reform our immigration system must protect key policies important for the AAPI-immigrant community, such as the ability for siblings and adult married children to be reunited with their families. There is a false assumption that immigrant family members are a drain on the economy. In reality, immigrant families often provide affordable child care, pool resources to start new businesses, and serve as a built-in safety-net. Our immigration policy must reflect the needs of AAPI immigrants.

Efforts to engage AAPI immigrants also lag behind outreach to other immigrant communities. In 2012, President Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program offered young undocumented immigrants protection from deportation and the ability to work legally. A Migration Policy Institute study conducted two years later found that while 68% of eligible Hondurans, 62% of eligible Mexicans and 61% of eligible Peruvians applied, only a fraction of eligible AAPI immigrants submitted an application for the program (24% of Koreans, 26% of Filipinos and 28% of Indians).

The lack of AAPI engagement is partially due to the persistent coverage of immigration issues from a singular lens. By not engaging AAPI immigrants in the discussion, and helping shift cultures of silence around immigration, American runs the real risk that many immigrants from Asia will not take advantage of opportunities and become fully integrated into our country.

In New York, many elected officials and advocates continue to fight for the region's growing AAPI immigrant communities, but there is much more that needs to be done. As we celebrate AAPI Heritage Month, we honor our immigrants from Asia who have played a critical role in our nation's history - immigrants who will play an even larger role in shaping our nation's future for decades to come.