AAPI-focused nonprofit welcomes migrants

How the Chinese-American Planning Council stands ready to help throughout the immigration process.

Attendees at the Chinese-American Planning Council’s Queens Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month Benefit on Wednesday at Terrace on the Park in Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

Attendees at the Chinese-American Planning Council’s Queens Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month Benefit on Wednesday at Terrace on the Park in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. Courtesy of Chinese-American Planning Council

With the recent wave of new Chinese migrants entering New York from the Southern border, nonprofits serving the Asian American and Pacific Islander community are poised to assist them through various stages of their immigration process. From guiding asylum seekers through their initial steps to helping 2nd generation immigrants sharpen both language skills and resumes, nonprofits have held a vital place in New York City’s AAPI communities. 

According to the Chinese-American Planning Council, the largest AAPI nonprofit in the U.S., while most recent immigrants hold similar aspirations as previous generations, recent Chinese asylum seekers tend to seek refuge in New York City for political dissidence. 

“The push factors behind why many of these folks are actually seeking refuge, [is that] if they stayed in their own country, they're going to be persecuted or imprisoned. So even those who are coming through the border [...]  they're speaking up against the government and they're afraid of being labeled as someone deemed as a threat,” said Mitchel Wu, director of CPC Queens community services. 

From day care services, to English and Mandarin language classes and the operation of senior centers, the Council’s diverse programming gives multiple generations of AAPI members opportunities to connect within the community.  

“Anyone is eligible for all of our programs, because we don’t ask for status. All of our programs are culturally competent, and our staff really understand the nuances and barriers when it comes to immigration,” Wu said. “Whether it be cultural issues such as the intimidation or the feeling of isolation, we also provide financial literacy and civic engagement, so not only can you find gainful employment but you can also be a productive person of citizenship and be civically engaged on a local level. So we really promote more of a holistic type of support system.” 

With culturally competent staff well-versed in the various languages and cultures of incoming newcomers, community-based AAPI-focused nonprofits tend to be the most desired guides for recent Chinese asylum-seekers. With most people reaching services through word of mouth, an organization’s proximity to the community can be vital for effective outreach and advocacy efforts. 

“A lot of programs are actually literally right there in the community – in Flushing, Queens, in Chinatown on the Lower East Side. We’re in Bed-Stuy and Sunset Park in Brooklyn. And these are all gateway communities. When they literally come off the plane, they ask their neighbor and they go to the first point of what they know, instead of going to the government agencies. We really built this type apparatus and channels of how immigrant communities network. More folks fall through the cracks, and the more vulnerable people will trust who they ask, relying on word of mouth,” stated Wu. 

In addition to helping immigrants overcome language barriers, AAPI-focused nonprofits have served vital roles in helping immigrants navigate American social systems, from enrolling in SNAP benefits to filing taxes and entering the workforce. 

Among organizations helping immigrants make their way into the workforce is the Chinatown Manpower Project. Founded over 50 years ago, CMP has mentored Chinese immigrants and youth on best employment practices – even coaching some to start their own small businesses. Amidst these mentorships, AAPI nonprofits are essential to helping immigrants gain trust in American social systems. 

“I cannot emphasize this enough. Trust is what makes us different from the government and direct surface level help. They come to us, not only because of language barriers, but because we understand,” said Hong Shin Lee, executive director of CMP. 

“Even if we can’t help them, because you don't have documents per say, they feel comfortable because they’re afraid of repercussions and exposing themselves directly to the government,” Lee said.”And it's not just for CMP, but community based organizations in general.”