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Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez
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Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis

Remarks by Hilda L. Solis, Secretary of Labor
AAPI Immigration Stakeholders Call
Thursday, May 19, 2011

Good afternoon! Thank you for joining the call today.

Two weeks ago in El Paso, President Obama laid out his blueprint for a 21st century immigration system that honors the contributions of American immigrants.

We know that the contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to our economic growth are extraordinary.

The good news is, we are educating foreign-born students here in our universities at a faster rate than any other country.

The bad news? Our broken immigration system often sends them back home to compete against us.

This makes no sense.

In 2009, more than 60 percent of foreign-born scientists and engineers in this country were from Asia.

Nearly 25 percent were from India.

Another 20 percent were from China, the Philippines and Taiwan.

Over the past two decades, the growth rate in our high-tech sector has been more than double that of other manufacturing industries worldwide.

We need to nurture the contributions of our Asian American and Pacific Islander immigrants — so we can win the global race to lead the high-growth sectors of tomorrow.

In the coming weeks, we will release even more data when our chief economist puts out a report that details the experiences of Asian and Pacific Islanders in the U.S. labor market during the economic recovery.

I will be eager to hear your feedback once it's published and released.

Now, we all know that the political obstacles to immigration reform are significant.

But even in the face of party-line opposition in Congress, President Obama continues to lead the fight for a more sane and humane 21st century immigration system.

He believes, as I do, that we have to make it easier for high-skilled AAPI entrepreneurs to come to this country and start companies. This means more visas for these job creators.

We should staple green cards to the diplomas of AAPI immigrant students who receive graduate degrees in areas where we have critical shortages.

We need their knowledge, their work ethic and their creativity.

We need to reform country caps so more AAPI immigrants can contribute to our future growth and competitiveness.

We should provide more legal channels for companies to hire foreign-born workers when necessary — even as we safeguard the wages and job security of Americans workers able to do these jobs.

And for AAPI youth who were brought here as children by their parents, we should pass the DREAM Act.

In my home state of California alone, 40 percent of DREAM Act beneficiaries are of Asian descent. That's 65,000 students.

We should harness the talent and patriotism of these students who love this country — and offer a path to citizenship to those who serve in our military or excel in the classroom.

This is the President's vision and mine.

But until Congress acts on immigration reform, I will continue to do all I can as Labor Secretary for the AAPI community.

This includes safeguarding the rights of our lower-skilled AAPI workers.

Last year, to commemorate AAPI Heritage Month, I convened a roundtable conversation focused on lower-wage AAPI workers employed in dangerous industries.

This year, we have continued to demonstrate our commitment to the health and safety of AAPI workers.

As a Department, we have recovered millions in back wages from employers engaged in wage theft.

One case at LAX airport this April involved a group of AAPI restaurant workers. We helped them get more than $162,000 in back wages restored.

Also, at the Department of Labor, we understand that we serve all workers, including those whose primary language may not be English.

So we've translated more of our documents into other languages, including Asian languages.

As a result, more workers with limited English proficiency will have resources available to them in their native language.

In the aftermath of the oil spill in the Gulf, we worked to ensure that Southeast Asian shrimpers, crabbers and fisherman received culturally appropriate training on cleanup procedures — as well as safety materials printed in their native language.

Additionally, we awarded $1.8 million in emergency grant funds to help retrain workers in the fishing and seafood industries of New Orleans.

This included help for many workers in the East Vietnamese community.

Finally, we are also working at the Labor Department to collect better data to serve the AAPI community.

Current data suggests that the AAPI community has the lowest unemployment rate among all racial groups. This is great news!

However, we also know that AAPIs have the longest periods of unemployment among all racial groups.

U.S. census data shows us that the unemployment rate is especially high in certain AAPI communities.

By getting more detailed information on each ethnic group, we will be able to see certain characteristics emerge and potentially target certain populations for assistance.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has made significant progress in addressing this problem by producing a Current Population Survey special report.

This report will allow us to see data broken down by Asian American sub-ethnic group.

We will be able to look at unemployment, occupation, industry, immigration status, age, gender, educational attainment and duration of unemployment.

This is the first time that BLS has ever produced this type of data. We are proud to take this important step.

Finally, I want to note that our Occupational Safety & Health and Wage & Hour divisions are co-hosting AAPI Worker Safety Summits around the country.

The first summit was held last week in San Francisco. And we have an additional summit scheduled for July 9 in New York.

We hope to replicate these models nationwide to strengthen the communication between our department and AAPI workers.

We are committed to ensuring that Asian American and Pacific Islander workers understand their rights under the law — and know about the resources available to help them.

I also want to invite my friends in California to join me for an immigration town hall at 10:30 a.m. on May 27 at East Los Angeles College.

To RSVP, call Cindy Chen at 202-693-6046 or email Chen.Cindy@dol.gov.

For those of you not in LA, please visit: www.whitehouse.gov/immigrationaction

This website encourages you to coordinate roundtables in your communities to promote a civil and constructive conversation on immigration.

So thanks again. I'm proud to have so many partners on the call today as we celebrate Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month.