Asian-Americans Attack 'Contract'

Four community activists discussed the possible impact of the Contract with America's 'Personal Responsibility Act' upon Asian Americans.

The 30 audience members and the panelists agreed that, if passed, the 'Personal Responsibility Act' (PRA) will hurt the financial situation of many in the Asian-American community, particularly recent immigrants and refugees.

"It's not just a matter of money. It's a matter of life and death for some people," said Chi Chi Wu, a panelist and member of the Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence.

The bill would limit the eligibility of legal immigrants for social programs ranging from Aid for Dependent Children (AFDC) to educational assistance. Legal immigrants over the age of 75, veterans and refugees during their first five years in the U.S. are exempt from these cuts.

Wu called the possible effects of the bill "devastating" for battered Asian women.


"Imagine you've been living in the country for two or three years. You've got small children, your husband is working a service job, maybe in a hotel or a restaurant, and he's battering you. Who do you turn to?" she asked the audience. "Currently, 70 percent of our clients are on AFDC. They are trying to put their lives together. It's critical forthem."

Long Nguyen, a staff attorney with the GreaterBoston Legal Services, agreed that the PRA coulddamage immigrants' lives irreparably.

He emphasized the importance of maintaining theavailability government-assisted low-incomehousing, one of the programs for which legalimmigrants may become ineligible. With theproposed legislation, a three person familyearning $1,000 a month doesn't have a chance, hesaid.

"If there are no government housing programsthey will spend the majority of their income onshelter and utilities. If someone gets fired orlaid-off, they can't pay their expenses and theresult is homelessness, "he said.

Anne Mackin, an advocate for the MassachusettsImmigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, and NamV. Pham, the director of the Massachusetts Officefor Refugees and Immigrants, also voiced concerns.

"The Contract with America's effect onAsian-Americans and immigrants is terrible," saidPham, who credited the origins of the bill toanti-immigrant sentiment.

"Sentiment against newcomers is not justlimited to conservative Republicans or racistgroups. It's a widespread problem, and we mustexpend our energy on the root cause of theproblem," he said.

Mackin elaborated upon his point. "It's notjust people who are newly arrived who will beaffected. It's also people who have lived here foryears and have never become citizens. It could beyour grandparents," she said.

The audience seemed to respond favorably to thediscussion.

"I really enjoyed it," said Jaehyuk Choi '98."It brought up a lot of issues that are oftenoverlooked in the debate about 'Contract withAmerica' and by the media."

Sharon Gi '98 concurred. "I haven't really beenup on the political thing, so it was veryhelpful," she said.

Another audience member, who asked that hername not be printed, had a more personal reaction.

"My mother is a legal immigrant on AFDC, and Ijust became a citizen. I cannot emphasize how muchAFDC helped us. My dad is an alcoholic and we hadto leave him," he said.

"Without AFDC I wouldn't be here today. I'mjust glad I'm not out on the streets right now,selling crack like a lot of the other kids I know.I hope the government appreciates how important aprogram it is," he said.

The panel was moderated by Alex H. Cho '96, andsponsored by the Asian American Association andthe Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and RaceRelations