President Barack Obama signs Executive Order 13515, re-establishing the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, on Oct. 14, 2009.
WASHINGTON — Ten of the remaining 14 members of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders resigned this week, citing their disagreement with the new administration’s policies.
Six other commissioners — Nina Ahmad, Lian Cheun, Diane Narasaki, Shekar Narasimhan, Bo Thao-Urabe and Paul Watanabe — resigned on Jan. 20, the day President Donald Trump was inaugurated.
Established through executive order by President Bill Clinton in 1999, the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders was renewed by Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. All of the current commissioners are Obama appointees.
Sources have told NBC News that Trump is expected to reauthorize WHIAAPI, but the timing has yet to be determined. Presidential action is needed for the commission to continue.
In a Feb. 15 letter to Trump, the 10 commissioners outlined their reasons for leaving:
“We, the undersigned … resign from our appointments effective immediately We sent to you a letter on 1/13/17 stating the goals and principles that defined our work as commissioners but have received no response. Although the commissioners’ term ends 9/30/17, we can no longer serve a president whose policies aim to create outcomes that are diametrically opposite to our principles, goals, and charge.
“Under Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama, the charge to our commissioners has been to help the federal government better serve AAPIs by engaging our communities, identifying our needs and priorities, and increasing access to our government. The commissioners have engaged with AAPIs throughout our country, from all walks of life, and across the political spectrum using the following principles that are fundamental to our work:
“• Protecting the civil rights of all those living in our country, including the most vulnerable;
“• Respecting the unique attributes of all individuals and communities;
“• Promoting family values by keeping families together and reuniting those separated by immigration; and
“• Ensuring linguistic, cultural, and financial access to health care as well as economic and educational opportunities for all.
“We firmly believe these principles are fundamental to our nation and need to be implemented and enforced at all times. Since your inauguration, the executive orders you have issued and policies you promulgated have greatly impeded the ability of the federal government to serve all who live here. Specifically, your actions have had the following deleterious consequences for AAPIs and all Americans:
“• Proposals to cut federal resources to sanctuary cities will harm all residents of those cities by reducing support for critical municipal services such as police, fire, health, and emergency services. These actions will fuel tensions between native-born Americans and immigrants — regardless of their status. Two out of three AAPIs are immigrants.
“• Bans on refugees and those coming from the seven predominantly Muslim countries have torn families apart, have created confusion about our immigration and visa policies, and have created tension with countries that we need to better understand. By singling out individuals, families and communities for their religious beliefs, your actions create a religion-based test for entry into our country and threaten freedom of religion, a fundamental constitutional right. Banning Muslims bans members of our AAPI community.
“• Increased border and immigrant enforcement, as well as building a wall between Mexico and the United States, will not improve the security of our country. Rather, it will split working families apart, severely impact companies and their workforce, and exacerbate tensions with a key ally and trading partner. Many AAPI individuals and businesses depend on good international relations for personal and economic reasons.
“• Repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will harm at least 20 million Americans who were previously uninsured, two million of whom are Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, along with millions more who benefited from key provisions of the ACA.
“In addition to these actions, we object to your portrayal of immigrants, refugees, people of color and people of various faiths as untrustworthy, threatening, and a drain on our nation. The fact is that Native Peoples, immigrants from all parts of the world, and people of color have built this country.
“Among the commissioners, there are immigrants, refugees, and descendants of those who have experienced systematic discrimination. We, and the communities that we represent, have worked diligently to make America great and have fought to keep it free. We have and will always strive to ensure that America, our America, will never go back to the days of exclusion, segregation and internment — all policies which have severely impacted AAPIs.
“AAPIs are an integral part of the mosaic of our great country and have been since the 1500s. We share the same dreams as other Americans for a stronger, brighter and more inclusive America. We urge you and every member of your administration to respect all Americans by protecting civil rights and civil liberties for everyone, promoting broader dialogue and understanding, and keeping the federal government accessible to all people living in the United States — regardless of their status as citizens, immigrants or refugees.”
The 10 commissioners are:
Tung T. Nguyen, MD, chair, Vietnamese American, San Francisco
Mary Ann Young Okada, co-chair, Chamorro American, Guam
Michael Byun, Korean American, Akron, Ohio
Kathy Ko Chin, Chinese American, Oakland
Jacob Fitisemanu Jr., Samoan American, Salt Lake City, Utah
Daphne Kwok, Chinese American, Annandale, Va.
Dee Jay Mailer, Native Hawaiian, Honolulu
Maulik Pancholy, Indian American, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Linda X. Phan, Vietnamese American, Austin, Texas
Sanjita Pradhan, Nepalese American, Des Moines, Iowa
The remaining four commissioners are Ravi Chaudhary, Billy Dec, Bill Imada and Lorna May Ho Randlett.
Imada told The Rafu Shimpo, “If the commissioners all resign, several programs we have initiated will no longer have a champion — including the commission’s anti-bullying initiative (which Billy Dec is tied closely to, along with a staffer). I am working on a couple of cases involving AAPI business leaders — one involves a potential scam. I am remaining because we still have staff working on these and other key assignments. There is more than one branch of government.”
Copies of the letter were sent to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, whose department houses WHIAAPI, and Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, MD, co-chair of WHIAAPI.
Rep. Judy Chu (D-Pasadena), chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, said in a statement, “The en masse resignations of these 10 commissioners speak volumes about the depth of opposition to President Trump’s recent actions, especially in the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. This includes hateful executive orders that threaten immigrant, Muslim and refugee communities.
“Under previous Democratic and Republican administrations, the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders has enabled the federal government to better serve the AAPI community. But rather than empower this commission, President Trump has chosen to undermine the very principles that guide their work.
“And instead of seeing the commission as a path towards unity, Mr. Trump has embraced division. This deeply troubling shift signals that far from working to build a more inclusive government, we have a president that now seeks to advance discriminatory policies that strike fear in our communities.
“I commend the members of the President’s Advisory Commission, all of whom have made an indelible impact on the well-being and advancement of AAPIs across our nation. Their work to engage community networks, federal agencies, and AAPI leaders and to make government more accessible to our communities is truly commendable, and we are a stronger country because of their contributions. Their bold and principled stand reminds us that we must continue to reject hateful and discriminatory policies and work to protect the civil rights of all Americans.”