ATLANTA—With a wood-burning stove making things cozy, and her geriatric diva of a bulldog, Spanky, in the next room, attorney Helen Kim Ho sat in her sunny office and described the priorities of the civil rights group she founded and leads.
Cyberbullying, family leave, Medicaid expansion, and E-Verify are four key issues that affect Asian Americans in Georgia and that matter to the larger population, according to Ho.
The nonpartisan Asian American Legal Advocacy Center, Inc. (AALAC) of Georgia has developed a nationally relevant legislative policy agenda. “Immigrants, refugees, we are like everybody else; we care about health care, education and economic issues,” said Ho. She is the founder and director of AALAC, which is the first nonprofit law center dedicated to Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, and Asian-ethnic refugees (“Asian Americans”) in the Southeast, it states.
Ho left private practice to found the center in June 2010 and did not draw a salary for the first year. She has been named as Notable in Georgia Trend’s 2014 Most Influential Georgians List, as one of Georgia Trend’s 2013 Power Women, 2010 40 Under 40: Georgia’s Best & Brightest; and won a Martin Luther King Jr. Community Service Award for Innovation. Her parents came to America from Korea.
“We are genuinely bipartisan. We are not for Democrats or Republicans. Our commitment is to the largest number of our community members, what’s in their best interest,” said Ho. “Everybody values health care, getting better health care for their family, their children, their parents; when you talk about it we all want the same things.”
At AALAC’s third annual Legislative Breakfast, Feb. 10, her group will present those issues and discuss them with leaders including Reps. Hank Johnson and Rob Woodall.
“A lot of immigrant groups only have enough bandwidth to focus on the most regressive measures,” said Ho, meaning deportations and punitive state laws aimed at undocumented immigrants. Georgia has a state immigration law based on Arizona’s law.
Some other immigrant groups also favor a style that involves shouting into bullhorns and raising clenched fists. Not AALAC. It appears to develop relationships over time, engaging legislators from both parties and forming coalitions of multiple ethnic groups. State lawmakers including civil rights movement veteran Tyrone Brooks, liberal firebrand Nan Orrock, and conservative Republican B.J. Pak spoke at last year’s breakfast.
Asian teens are most likely to be cyberbullied and the most likely to be bullied in the classroom, according to Ho. An AALAC handout stated that according to a 2009 U.S. Department of Education Survey, the percentage of Asian students who reported being bullied was higher than any other major race group.
Big, Big Anti-Cyberbully Bill
The American Psychological Association said first and second generation AAPI immigrants are likely to be bullied in the classroom, and to be bullied with racial taunts. The 2.9 percent of AAPI students who are cyberbullied are cyberbullied often, according to APA. Overall, a greater percentage of middle school students (26.8 percent) than high school students (15.6 percent) were categorized as victims of bullying, according to the CDC. Being bullied is associated with greater risk of violence and suicide, and with poorer academic outcomes.
“We have a big, big, anti-cyberbully bill,” Ho said. Georgia’s Senate Bill 279 would redefine bullying “so as to include cyberbullying in the definition of ‘bullying’; to provide for professional development for bullying prevention strategies and intervention; to provide for linguistically and culturally appropriate notification to parents regarding bullying,” reads the bill. It has sponsors from both parties. The current law is limited to acts that happen on school grounds or on school computers, excluding most cyberbullying, which happens via mobile phones and home computers.
If SB 279 does not pass this year, Ho and her coalition will persist. “Tactically we are just trying to expand our support,” she said. “A lot of bills take years and years.”
E-Verify, Family Leave
AALAC’s other legislative priorities are lifting Georgia’s mandatory E-Verify rule, and expanding the way companies that already offer paid sick leave allow people to use it. “It’s basically if you pay for sick time let five of those days go for family care,” said Ho.
E-Verify requires businesses to check new hires against a federal database to be sure they are eligible to work. E-Verify is costly and inaccurate, according to critics, and according to Ho, discourages businesses from hiring foreign-born people.
She said larger Asian owned businesses have been trying to avoid trouble by avoiding foreign-born hires, but that hurts the larger community.
Ho knows that AAPI’s are a small percentage of Georgia’s population, yet their numbers are growing exponentially. Her advocacy work and coalition building is about helping people now and in the future. We have to “look ahead and think about all these young immigrant kids filling up our schools.”