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The White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders

On Wednesday, January 27th, we spent most of the day at a "Community Listening Session" put on by the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (WHIAAPI) for Region 5 (which took in Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Indiana). As was stated on the distributed handout, its goals were to introduce this initiative and the Region 5 Interagency Working Group (RIWG) to the local Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) community; to help the RIWG understand the needs of the Cleveland AAPI community, and to develop tangible recommendations on how the RIWG can address community needs. Conducting the meeting which took place at the Ariel International Center was Mr. Michael Byun from the President's Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and the WHIAAPI people who were there to learn along with us were Ms. Rebecca Lee, Ms. Michelle Crew and Mr. George Mui.

There were probably over 100 people there and Mr. Byun praised its diversity and talked about his own background. He immigrated here from South Korea with his family when he was a baby. His family became small business owners and he frequently helped his parents (who worked 16-18 hour days) as he was growing up. He explained that the ultimate goal of the WHIAAPI was to find was to improve the lives of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

He introduced Cleveland City Councilman Brian Cummins who said that it didn't matter that he wasn't the councilman for this particular area because the whole city must pay attention to diversity and international issues. Councilman Cummins said that he was particularly interested health disparity issues in the Asian community. What's more in Ohio the Asian community has contributed $7 billion to the economy and most of the Asian population lives in the Cleveland area.

Ms. Radhika Reddy said that she was proud to have this meeting, which brought a lot of groups together, there at the Ariel Center.

Ms. Rebecca Lee praised the work of Ms. Chia-Min Chen, Asian Liaison to the Cleveland Community Relations board, who was present. She said that Ms. Chen was the queen of the "Asian American community in Cleveland."

Ms. Michelle Crow reviewed the federal agencies who sent representatives there for this meeting which included U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, U.S. Dept. of Education, Small Business Administration, Minority Business Development Agency, Dept. of Labor, Social Security Administration, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Veterans Administration, Occupational Safety and Health, and Defense Finance and Accounting Services.

Many of these were asked to speak including Ms. Jacqueline Guevara of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Ms. Guevara pointed out that her department fell under the auspices of the Department of Homeland Security and that they represented its "kinder, gentler side" and that her job was to make sure that the "right benefit went to the right applicant" while keeping border security in mind. Among the others who spoke was Ms. Diana Jin from Defense Finance and Accounting who said that every year in May her department has a big community event and Ms. Margaret W. Wong came to one of them.

Ms. Crew then said that there would be group breakout sessions in the areas of housing and education; health, human services, and social security; immigration, labor and workers rights; and economic development and business. Beforehand though, a local representative from each of those four areas would speak. Talking about immigration was Ms. Jaya Bidari, an immigration attorney who thanked President Obama for his immigration accountability executive action last November but she was worried how it would be implemented and felt that certain areas needed clarification. She was also worried that international students in need of extended visas might "fall through the cracks." Overall, she hoped that it would be enforced in a way that would "keep immigrants in the gates" of the United States with "more liberal standards and prosecutorial discretion."

Talking about economic issues was Ms. Radhika Reddy, a successful businesswoman, who spoke about the cultural and communicative problems that she faced at the beginning of her career in Cleveland. She ultimately overcame these difficulties due to her strong work ethic. Another problem that she talked about was that Asians do not qualify as a minority group like African Americans and Hispanics when seeking certain forms of governmental assistance.

We ultimately chose to attend the breakout session regarding immigration which had over twenty people in it including Ms. Chia-Min Chen, Ms. Joy Roller (Global Cleveland), Mr. Pierre Bejjani (Profile News), Mr. Joe Meissner (attorney), Ms. Jaya Bidari (immigration attorney), Mr. Richard P. Goddard (attorney with Calfee, Halter, and Griswold who specializes in labor and civil rights issues), Ms. Jacqueline Guevara (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services), Ms. Elaine Tso (immigration attorney), Ms. Erin P. Brown (immigration attorney), Ms. Kimlee Sureemee (Asian Services in Action), Ms. Michelle Crew (WHIAAPI), and Ms. Meredith Turner from U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown's office.

Among the things that were discussed is the how to get information to people about what President Obama's immigration accountability executive action entails and connect them with the people who can help them if the executive action has the potential to change their immigration status. At first it was suggested that a big community event be planned that could be attended by all of the ethnic groups of Cleveland but as our discussion progressed we leaned towards outreach plans specifically tailored to each ethnic group particularly the smaller ones. Ms. Roller plans to put together a committee to study this situation more thoroughly and then take action. Other issues that we felt needed to be addressed were outreach to the business community to urge them employ international students after they graduate, the need to reform certain visas so that workers/potential workers can remain in the U.S. longer and better relations with law enforcement.

Just before the day ended, representatives from each breakout group shared their ideas with all of us. Due to the diversity of this event and the different perspectives, we thought that the four hours that we spent at the Ariel International Center were more than worthwhile. We really enjoyed sharing our luncheon table with Mr. Goddard and Ms. Fran Mitchell Schaul who are both attorneys from Calfee, Halter and Griswold, LLP. Mr. Goddard really admires the work that we do and Ms. Schaul has a daughter who went to Laurel School at the same time Ms. Wong's daughter did. Ms. Schaul is studying Mandarin now so that she will be better equipped to assist Asian clients and hopes to collaborate with us eventually.

Although, we were tired we decided to go to a "perfect pairs mixer" consisting of wine and chocolate tasting put on by the Heights-Hillcrest Regional Chamber of Commerce at McGregor's in East Cleveland. We were glad that we did because we met a few people who were familiar with either Ms. Margaret W. Wong and/or Margaret W. Wong and Associates or knew someone closely connected with us.

The people that we met were:

***Ms. Andrea Andnioff who owns a business called "I Love Pies" located in Wickliffe. Ms. Andnioff is also the Macedonia ambassador for Clevelandpeople.com

***Mr. Jon Kaplan, President of Pearlwind Sustainable Energy, toured our office two years ago and did an estimate to upgrade out lighting.

***Mr. Timothy P. Krenn who now works for Healthspan used to be our representative in 2007-2009 when he worked for West Publishing which involved legal online research.

***Mr. Phil Stella of Effective Training and Communication did a seminar for a meeting of "MotivAsians" that took place at our office in 2013. He also liked the recent article that Crain's did about Ms. Wong.

***Ms. Bonnie N. Dick, Training and Employment Consultant, has a meeting scheduled with Ms. Joy Roller of Global Cleveland to discuss ways that she can be of service to immigrants.

***Ms. Lee Ann O'Brien, Director of Community Relations for McGregor, knows Ms. Wong through her involvement with the Women's City Club of Cleveland.

We also met Ms. Denise Brenneman and Ms. Karen Crotty, both of whom are Job Developers for CEVEC which offers entry level job training primarily for those aged 18 to 22. They gladly took our information because, on occasion, a student might have an immigration issue or know someone who does.

The McGregor facility, which provides all kinds of good care for seniors, is located just a few miles from where we live and we were glad that we took the time to go over there after a long day.

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