US Vice President Joe Biden speaks at the opening ceremony of the Asian American and Pacific Islanders Heritage Month in Washington on Tuesday. Chen Weihua/China Daily
Vice-President Joe Biden marked the opening on Tuesday of Asian American and Pacific Islanders Heritage Month by praising the contributions of the community and calling for immigration reform.
Biden said the significance of how immigration built and continues to build the United States has been vastly underestimated. "It's not a burden, it is a blessing,"he said.
"From my ancestors in 1842 to all the Asian and Pacific Islanders who made their way here to the United States or US territories, it's the reason why we are so vibrant. It's the reason why we are strong,"Biden told the crowd of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) gathered in the Yates Auditorium of the Department of the Interior.
Biden called on House Speaker John Boehner to allow a vote on the immigration bill that was passed by the Senate last June and would open a path to legalization of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country.
Biden cited a Congressional Budget Office study which showed that immigration reform would boost economic growth and help reduce the deficit.
While the 11 million undocumented immigrants are mostly Latinos, they also include some 1.3 million undocumented Asians.
The vice-president praised the contribution of Chinese Americans who built the Trans-Pacific Railroad.
"You know, my Irish immigrant great-great-grandparents met many of your great-great-grandparents because the Irish built the transcontinental railroad from the Atlantic to the middle of the country, and you all built it from the (Pacific) coast to the middle of the country,"he said.
"As usual, you had the more difficult job. You had to go through the Rockies, we only had to go through the Appalachians,"said Biden, with his usual sense of humor.
President Barack Obama, in a proclamation to the AAPI Heritage Month, also lauded the contribution of early Chinese immigrants.
"This month marks 145 years since the final spike was hammered into the continental railroad, an achievement made possible by Chinese laborers, who did the majority of this backbreaking and dangerous work,"Obama said.
At the US Department of Labor's Cesar Chavez Memorial Auditorium on Friday, Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez will host a ceremony for the induction of the Chinese railroad workers into the Labor Hall of Honor.
From 1865 to 1869, about 12,000 Chinese immigrants constructed the western section of the transcontinental railroad, regarded as one of the greatest engineering feats in American history.
"For this accomplishment, for their courage to organize in pursuit of fair wages and safe working conditions, and for the example they set for millions of Asian immigrants who followed them, the Chinese railroad workers will be inducted into our Hall of Honor,"said a department of Labor announcement.
However, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 had denied access of Chinese immigrants to the US.
In his proclamation, Obama also voiced his determination to pass comprehensive immigration reform that would modernize the legal immigration system, create a pathway to earned citizenship for undocumented immigrants, hold employers accountable and strengthen border security.
"These commonsense measures would bring relief to Asian American and Pacific Islanders who have experienced this broken system firsthand, and they would allow our country to welcome more highly skilled workers eager to contribute to America's success,"Obama said.
While Obama won 71 percent of the Latino vote and 73 percent of the Asian-American vote in 2012, many have since criticized Obama for deporting 1.5 million immigrants during his first term in office.
There are now 15.5 million Asian Americans in the US, of which Chinese account for 3.66 million.
Statistics from the 2012 American Community Survey found that among Chinese Americans, 25.5 percent have a bachelor's degree and 27.1 percent have a graduate or professional degree, much higher than the 17.5 percent and 10.2 percent of the total US population.
"The AAPI community has become one of the fastest-growing racial groups in the United States and we have an increasingly significant role in business, medicine, law, government, entertainment and all the facets of American life,"said Congressman Mike Honda of California.
AAPI Heritage Month will feature a variety of events including performances on the National Mall by a martial arts wushu team from China on May 17.
The theme for heritage month — I Am Beyond — is a salute to how the AAPI community excels in the face of enormous challenges.