It’s convention time, and with glorious speeches, political star-power, and overly-enthusiastic party supporters gracing our television screens every night, public policy somehow gets lost in the rhetoric.
Party platforms, which usually run over 40 pages, are not the sexiest of materials to go through, but they do offer great insights on the baseline positions that the candidates will fight for if they win office.
Below are the positions of Republicans and Democrats on issues that either directly affect the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community, or cover bread and butter issues that AAPIs tend to care most about.
Republicans: “In an age of terrorism, drug cartels, human trafficking, and criminal gangs, the presence of millions of unidentified persons in this country poses grave risks to the safety and the sovereignty of the United States.”
Republicans are taking a hardline stance on immigrants who do not have legal documentation. They want to make it mandatory for employers to check the immigration status of new hires, impose tough penalties for forged documentation, and allow state and local police to check the immigration status of anyone they stop. In addition, anyone who transports or harbors an undocumented immigrant will be committing a crime. For Republicans, the solution to the 12 million undocumented immigrants is, vaguely, to implement “humane procedures to encourage illegal aliens to return home voluntarily.”
Democrats: “The country urgently needs comprehensive immigration reform that brings undocumented immigrants out of the shadows and requires them to get right with the law, learn English, and pay taxes in order to get on a path to earn citizenship.”
Democrats support a process for undocumented immigrants currently in the US to eventually earn citizenship. President Barack Obama gave a reprieve from deportation and work permits to undocumented immigrants who came to the US at a young age. Democrats place focus on deporting those who have committed a crime, but want to offer a path to college and citizenship for those who are not dangerous and want to contribute to society. However, not much emphasis is placed on enforcement, and there is no mention that President Barack Obama actually deported undocumented immigrants at monthly rate that was 1.5 times higher than President George W. Bush.
Verdict: Most AAPIs will agree that life will be much harder for undocumented family members and friends if Republicans win. To his credit, Mitt Romney has proposed expediting visas so that those who want to come to the US legally can do so more easily. But regardless, Republicans ignore a viable solution for the 12 million undocumented immigrants already in the US, keeping them in the shadows with no legally viable way to become productive members of society. In addition, comparing undocumented immigrants to criminals may inadvertently increase racial profiling.
2. Voter ID Laws
Republicans: “Voter fraud is political poison. It strikes at the heart of representative government. We call on every citizen, elected official, and member of the judiciary to preserve the integrity of the vote.”
Republicans support state efforts to mandate voters show photo identification to get a ballot. Republicans also support state laws that ask for proof of citizenship when registering to vote. Finally, they want the US Census to count undocumented immigrants so they can be factored out when apportioning seats in state and federal legislatures.
Democrats: “We believe the right to vote and to have your vote counted is an essential American freedom, and we oppose laws that place unnecessary restrictions on those seeking to exercise that freedom.”
Democrats oppose voter identification laws, claiming they disenfranchise those who tend to not have government issued IDs: young voters, people of color, low-income families, people with disabilities, and the elderly.
Verdict: Statistics have shown that the groups mentioned by the Democratic Party do indeed have government-issued photo IDs at lower rates than the national average. Republican-supported voter ID laws are only fair if efforts are made to make it easy and free to obtain photo IDs. Voter ID laws could harm low-income AAPIs who cannot get IDs, as well as those who do not read English, and therefore would have no idea that the rules have changed on them. So states that want to enact stricter voter ID laws must address these issues. However, because the photo ID requirement is a somewhat new phenomenon, no studies have been done to conclusively show that a voter ID law decreases AAPI turnout.
Republicans: “We do not believe in a one size fits all approach to education and support providing broad education choices to parents and children at the state and local level.”
Republican education proposals are focused on school choice, allowing parents to choose a new school for their child if they are unsatisfied with the current school. Options mentioned in the platform include charter schools, open enrollment requests, college lab schools, virtual schools, career and technical education programs, vouchers, and tax credits. Republicans propose performance-based pay for teachers, and directly criticize some teachers unions for putting their needs ahead of students. Republicans seem to be pre-empting budget cuts by emphasizing that spending more money is not the solution to raising education outcomes. On higher education, Republicans want to privatize federal student loans.
Democrats: “If we want high-quality education for all our kids, we must listen to the people who are on the front lines.”
Although Democratic proposals also include school choice, Democrats place more emphasis on turning around struggling public schools and working with teachers. They seek to prevent teacher layoffs in tough economic times. They do support performance-based pay, but use softer language such as “rewarding good teaching” and “give struggling teachers a chance to succeed.” Democrats also plan to increase education spending by doubling the government’s key investment in training scientists and math and science teachers. On higher education, Democrats want to cut out private banks in the federal student loan process and keep interest rates low.
Verdict: Democrats and Republicans agree on having more school choice and performance-based pay, but are playing to their bases when they touch on teachers’ unions. For AAPI parents, both ideas offer more flexibility to helping their kids achieve a good education. On the student loan issue, low-income AAPIs will need more financing to pay for rising cost of college and graduate school. Republicans argue that privatization would increase competition and lower interest rates, but private loans already exist, and their rates are not as low as the taxpayer subsidized rates offered by the Federal government. If Republicans are worried that students are taking out loans for low-quality education programs, it sounds like what these students need is better career and loan counseling, and not higher interest rates.
4. Surveillance and Racial Profiling
Republicans: “We will strongly enforce antidiscrimination statutes and ask all to join us in rejecting the forces of hatred and bigotry and in denouncing all who practice or promote racism.”
Interestingly enough, Republicans want to ban aerial surveillance within the US in order to protect privacy of its citizens and residents. Racial profiling was not mentioned in their platform.
Democrats: “We are committed to equal opportunity for all Americans and to making sure that every American is treated equally under the law.”
Democrats have specified that they will combat racial profiling. As for counter-terrorism, they have promised not to infringe on the privacy and civil liberties of individuals, but approve of the use of technology to fight crime. Specific proposals on privacy were not mentioned in the platform, except for internet privacy.
Verdict: Both parties claim to be against discrimination and racial profiling. Republicans surprised with a promise to ban aerial surveillance. This is a good sign for Muslim and South Asian communities, which have suffered increased law enforcement surveillance since September 11, 2001. We hope the GOP can clamp down on anti-Muslim elements within their party and fulfill their pledge of privacy for all Americans.
5. Affirmative Action
Republicans: “Merit, ability, aptitude, and results should be the factors that determine advancement in our society.”
Republicans want to remove the use of affirmative action (preferences, quotas, or set-asides) as tool for promoting fair access to opportunities in government, education, and corporate board rooms. They vaguely support “efforts to help low-income individuals get a fair chance based on their potential and individual merit,” but offer no specifics on what kind of efforts they have in mind.
Democrats: “To enhance access and equity in employment, education, and business opportunities, we encourage initiatives to remove barriers to equal opportunity that still exist in America.”
The Democratic platform makes no mention of affirmative action.
Verdict: Affirmative action has been relentlessly attacked for more than a decade in US courts, and many university affirmative action policies have been dismantled or changed as a result. AAPIs are split on this issue, with some having benefited from affirmative action while others have not. The mere fact that Democrats are no longer in outright support of affirmative action suggests that they think it’s now a political risk to advocate for preferences based on race.
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Lin Yang is the political editor for Hyphen magazine. He has a masters degree in public policy from Harvard University.
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