Faculty Journal Posted on Friday, January 20, 2017

Asian Americans and the First 100 Days of Trump

Margaret M. Chin Professor of Sociology, Hunter College and the CUNY Graduate Center; Ph.D., Sociology, Columbia University

John J. Chin Professor of Urban Policy and Planning; Director of Graduate Program in Urban Planning

Donald J. Trump’s first 100 days as president will create huge ripples across the country, including among the Asian American population in the United States, which voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton (the National Asian American Survey indicates that upwards of 75 percent of the Asian American population voted for her, a rate similar to that of Black Americans and Latino Americans). The Asian American vote mirrored that of other people of color, immigrants, women, LGBT individuals, and working people, because they share many of the same interests. As President Trump fleshes out vaguely outlined yet concerning policy proposals made during his campaign, it is up to the people to demand a more progressive agenda — or to do what is possible to block regressive measures.

Asian Americans are a bifurcated economic group. Some segments are wealthier than white Americans, while others live in deep poverty; wealth inequality is greater among Asian Americans than in any other racial group.  While the census indicates that their median household income is higher than that of whites, looking at the middle of the income range in this highly bifurcated group hides the plight of a substantial population of poor and working class Asian Americans. Moreover, the majority of Asian Americans are foreign-born or are children of immigrants and are vulnerable to anti-immigrant policies and sentiments. Their heritages span East and South Asia, as well as encompassing a multitude of ethnicities, languages and religions, and serving this population well requires cognizance of these many differences.

While there are many challenges facing the country (e.g., deportation, DACA, violence and bias, the minimum wage and jobs, voting rights, affirmative action), immigration and healthcare are two of the most urgent policy areas at stake for Asian Americans under the Trump presidency.


Trump’s proposed restrictions on immigration would disproportionately hurt Asian Americans. Historically, limits to immigration, especially Asian immigration, as well as violence and hate crimes towards Asian Americans like the 1982 brutal murder of Vincent Chin, have been entwined with competition for jobs, especially during recessions in the U.S.  It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Trump’s rhetoric before November 8th – and more troublingly in the months since– has only increased the concern that the U.S. will revert to more restrictive immigration policies and incite anti-immigrant sentiment.

The concern is especially apparent in the Muslim-American community. Bias incidents against South Asians and others perceived correctly or not as being Muslim are being fueled by the call for a Muslim immigration ban and a Muslim registry. Of the world’s Muslim population, 62 percent live in the Asia-Pacific region, including Indonesia, India and Pakistan. Among Muslim Americans, 63 percent are foreign-born, with 26 percent of foreign-born Muslim Americans coming from South Asian nations, including Pakistan, Bangladesh and India.

Discrimination towards Muslims affects South Asian Americans directly, but talk of a Muslim registry is also chilling to East Asian Americans in light of the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, which a prominent Trump supporter cited as a precedent. Many Asian Americans have pointed out the similarities between the current concept of a Muslim Registry and the Japanese internment of World War II — both of which violate civil rights, due process, and equal protection. These proposed policies appeal to fear and prejudice towards people who are South Asian, Muslim or assumed “terrorists.” While many had hoped that Mr. Trump’s rhetoric about a Muslim immigration ban and registry would recede after the election, he recently suggested his ongoing commitment to those positions in discussing the truck attack at a Berlin Christmas market.

Additional concerns that many Asian Americans have raised about Trump’s immigration policies include his revolving opinions on H1B visas and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). For many who still have family members and other ties in their East Asian or South Asian homeland, immigration, H1B visas and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA ) are extremely close to their hearts. Trump has repeatedly said that he would bring immigration to historic lows, which could be half of current immigration numbers (about one million per year). This huge reduction in the numbers of who can enter the U.S. will add additional wait time for those family members on queue in an already overburdened system.

Moreover, there are also many Asian American young people who are DACA recipients, and a reversal of this policy could threaten their personal and economic security. In 2012, President Obama signed DACA into law by executive order, which allowed 750,000 children and young adults to receive this 2-year renewable benefit. While most advocates do not believe Trump will rescind the program entirely, it is unclear what will happen to the parents of DACA recipients. Many are fearful that their families will be torn apart.

Likewise, the discussion around the H1B visa, which allows a foreign national to work in the U.S., has further ignited concerns in the Asian American community. Currently, the majority of H1B visas are assigned to educated East and South Asians and creates an important flow of highly skilled workers to the U.S. Many of these individuals remain and become permanent residents and start families in the U.S. Trump has supported H1B visas and has advocated that a larger share of foreign national workers be chosen based on merit. Yet he and his advisors, including his proposed Attorney General, Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), have strongly criticized the program. Thus, the number of H1B visas could also be limited under Trump’s administration, which could have a profoundly negative impact on the economy and future prospects for Asian American immigrants and their families.

Proposed immigration restrictions were used during the election and are still being used as a means to polarize and divide the nation. Concerns about a Muslim registry, DACA, limits to the HIB visa and the Mexican border wall link Asian Americans to the plight of other people of color in the U.S. Mr. Trump also conflates immigration policy with jobs and national security as a way to gain support from his mostly white constituents. If President Trump is serious about uniting Americans and calming the fears of Asian Americans during his first 100 days, he should review immigration policies carefully and at least eliminate the threats of deportation for DACA students and their families, put aside the Muslim registry, and maintain the number of available H1B visas.


While the Trump administration raises concerns about healthcare access for all Americans, certain concerns are more specific to Asian Americans and other largely immigrant populations. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) – a signature accomplishment of the Obama administration – was signed into law in 2010 during a brief window after Obama’s first election victory when Democrats controlled both the House and the Senate. Since then, Republican Congressional leaders have been intent on dismantling the ACA without a meaningful plan for replacement, having recently taken steps to achieve this goal. President Trump supports those repeal efforts, having voiced this directly and also through his pick for Secretary of Health and Human Services, Representative Tom Price (R-GA), a vocal opponent of the ACA.

Threats to the Affordable Care Act are particularly salient to Asian Americans because of the potentially disproportionate negative effect that the law’s dismantling will have on immigrants. In the New York metropolitan area, 68 percent of Asians are foreign-born, compared to 27 percent for the general U.S. population. Prior to the ACA’s passage, in 2009, more than one in nine of New York City’s one million Asian Americans were uninsured, with the majority (86 percent) of uninsured Asian Americans in NYC being foreign-born. Healthcare access problems are exacerbated in Asian immigrant communities by undocumented immigration status, language barriers, cultural stigmas regarding use of public benefits, low utilization of preventive care, and high rates of employment in small businesses or cash-based industries that are less likely to offer health benefits.

The ACA went a long way to remedy the lack of health insurance coverage for Asian Americans and other largely immigrant communities, but because it left behind undocumented immigrants and offered an incomplete solution for recent immigrants, it didn’t go far enough. Threats to dismantle the ACA will roll back an already incomplete solution.

Unfortunately, since the election, Asian Americans have been living in a state of uncertainty. Without clarity and reassurances in these two policy areas, many Asian Americans are putting their lives on hold, unable to plan for and invest in the future as they confront numerous questions. For example, will there be restrictions to prevent even the re-entry of naturalized Muslims, or DACA young adults? Will family members abroad be able to visit them in the U.S.? Immigrants already in the immigration process may be left in limbo – not only in regard to their own status but also their extended families’ status. Moreover, since immigrant Asian Americans were disproportionately uninsured prior to the ACA’s passage, they will surely experience a great loss if the ACA is repealed.  Mr. Trump has not reassured the community in any meaningful way. The Asian American community urges President Trump to make immigration reform and healthcare a priority for all Americans, domestic or foreign-born.

This post appeared as part of a Roosevelt House series on the first 100 days of Donald J. Trump’s presidency. To read the rest of the series, click here.

Margaret M. Chin is a member of the Sociology Department at Hunter College and the Graduate Center (CUNY).

John J. Chin, Ph.D. is a professor in the department of urban policy and planning at Hunter College, City University of New York, where he also serves as the director of the graduate program in urban planning. His research focuses on the role of community institutions in community planning and in the delivery of social and health services, particularly to under-served communities. Prior to his academic/research career, Professor Chin was a co-founder and Deputy Executive Director of the Asian & Pacific Islander Coalition on HIV/AIDS (now known as the APICHA Community Health Center), a NYC-based Federally Qualified Health Center.