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Orange County's Fastest Growing Populations Need More Support, Report Finds

Youth of the Bridges
Youth of the Bridges program at Magnolia High School in Anaheim, part of the Orange County Asian and Pacific Islander Community Alliance (OCAPICA), who is Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Orange County's lead community partner for the report on May 2014. Photo: M. Jamie Watson/Courtesy of Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Orange County.

Orange County may be home to the third largest Asian American population in the country, but a local coalition found that such a broad grouping disadvantages several diverse and distinct communities that are the county's fastest growing. Their report released this summer delves into data from a variety of sources to distinguish numerical nuances, in all, identifying 27 racial and ethic groups.

Called "Community of Contrasts," the report makes 40 policy recommendations in nine categories, addressing topics from education to voting, that could improve the communities' well-being throughout Orange County. Below, we dig into five of the policy areas.

1. Civic Engagement: Increasing Participation in the Political Process

Growing numbers of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in Orange County are becoming citizens, registering to vote, and casting ballots. Since 2000, the number of Asian American immigrants countywide who have naturalized has increased 45 percent. Nearly 230,000 Asian Americans in Orange County were registered to vote as of the 2012 general election, which makes up 14 percent of the county's total electorate.

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However, the report, which was compiled by Asian American Advancing Justice, a legal and civil rights non-profit organization in Los Angeles, and the Orange County Asian and Pacific Islander Community Alliance, said that communities have not realized their full potential as participants in the political process. Over 38,000 Asian American immigrants in Orange County who obtained legal permanent resident status in the United States between 1985 and 2005 are eligible to naturalize, but have not yet become citizens. Asian American voter registration, voter turnout, and representation in public office still fall behind other racial groups.

The report suggests that policy makers promote civic engagement in the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities by providing government, foundation, and corporate funding to community organizations that offer culturally and linguistically competent assistance. This would assist in their efforts to become naturalized citizens, to register to vote, and become educated on voting procedures and ballot initiatives. As civic engagement work is most effective when conducted on an ongoing basis, funding for such work should be provided for multiyear periods rather than only during election cycles, the report said.

The report recommends oral language assistance and translated election materials, which are critical to the full participation in the electoral process. The report also suggests promoting the Secretary of State's online voter registration website, which is now available in eight Asian languages.

2. Immigration Reform Continues its Effects

According to the report, no community in Orange County is more immigrant than Asian Americans. Approximately 62 percent of Asian Americans and 16 percent of Pacific Islanders countywide are foreign-born. Orange County has the fourth largest number of Asian American immigrants among counties nationwide.

There are no official estimates of the number of undocumented Asian American immigrants in Orange County. However, according to the Department of Homeland Security, the nation has 1.3 million undocumented immigrants from Asia. If this is geographically distributed in ways consistent with the nation's Asian American foreign-born population, there could be at least 52,000 undocumented Asian Americans living in Orange County. Immigrants from Asia and the Pacific continue to come to Orange County in large numbers, contributing to its social and economic well-being, according to report's authors.

"Typically immigration issues are focused on how it affects Latinos. However, this data shows that immigration reform is something that affects Asian Americans, here in Orange County and across the United States," said Kristin Sakaguchi, the report's research analyst.

The report recommends terminating programs that authorize state and local police to enforce federal immigration laws. The report suggests adopting laws that prevent discrimination against documented and undocumented immigrants in employment, housing, education, and basic public services. It also recommends protecting undocumented immigrants from threats of being reported to immigration officials in retaliation for asserting their rights to fair housing, employment, and education.

3. Language Barriers Remain a Problem

Despite their population growth, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders still face language barriers that limit their access to critical services beyond civic engagement. Over 423,000 people in Orange County speak an Asian or Pacific Island language. Approximately 38 percent of Asian Americans and 10 percent of Pacific Islanders countywide are limited English proficient, or LEP, and experience some challenge communicating in English. More than half of Vietnamese and Korean Americans, the two largest groups in the Orange County, are LEP.

The report suggests a policy recommendation that includes English language acquisition and access to basic services in immigrant communities. It said this can be improved by increasing government funding for free and low-cost adult English language programs, and adopting ordinances at the city level for access to services including bilingual assistance and language interpretation.

4. Breaking the "Model Minority" Myth in Education

The report found that Asian American and Pacific Islanders have not all achieved academic success, breaking the "model minority" myth, which assumes they excel academically.

"When people look at general rates, it appears that many Asian Americans have graduated from high school or have advanced degrees, but when you look at the ethnic breakdown, many fall far below the county average," said Sakaguchi. "It's a matter of looking at the disaggregated data of the ethnic group breakdown."

Among adults, Cambodian and Vietnamese Americans in Orange County are among those least likely to hold high school and bachelor's degrees. Among youth, Pacific Islander students in Orange County schools have among the highest dropout rates, lowest graduation rates, and are less likely to have completed the required courses for college admission.

The report suggests that the educational needs of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in Orange County should be addressed by increasing and stabilizing funding or financial aid for K-12, adult, and public higher education, including community colleges and both California's university systems, to ensure public education is accessible and affordable to Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.

5. Healthcare Services, Education is Critical

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in Orange County are disproportionately impacted by disease, yet are less likely than whites to have health insurance. Approximately 28 percent of Korean Americans countywide are uninsured, a rate exceeded only by Latinos.

The report said the Affordable Care Act has the potential to provide greater access to quality affordable health insurance and culturally and linguistically appropriate services, which reduces health disparities for the communities.

The report suggests, among many of its health recommendations, that government, health care providers, and purchasers of care to ensure that all patients receive health care information, services, and treatment in their primary language and in a culturally appropriate way.

The report recommends funding programs under the ACA that help reduce costs and promote the use of preventive health care services. According to the report, programs that improve access to health care by moving toward a more effective, efficient single payer, universal health care system for all Californians are particularly important.

Here is a copy of the report.

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