Prior to the establishment of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), no reliable sources of assistance were available for special legal issues faced by the Asian American community in the eastern United States. Because of language barriers, racial discrimination, and other considerations, Asian Americans were often among the “forgotten” ethnic groups with limited access to those in power.
The first major influx of immigrants into the United States from Asian countries, particularly China, began during the mid-nineteenth century with the discovery of gold and the building of transcontinental railroads. Following the repeal of various nineteenth century exclusionary laws, the influx began to increase anew. By the end of the twentieth century, the Asian American community was growing rapidly, mainly through immigration, and was expected to reach a total of some twenty million people by the year 2020. Despite these developments, Asian immigrants were still to be found working in unsafe sweatshop conditions during the early twenty-first century and often had nowhere to turn for legal help. Human
Among the important issues addressed by AALDEF for the benefit of immigrant and lower-income members of the Asian American community are voting rights, economic justice, employment (including hiring discrimination and labor and workplace rights), education, civil rights, anti-Asian violence,
AALDEF provides its legal services free of charge to those unable to afford them and litigates cases that may have a wide-ranging impact on the Asian American community as a whole. The organization also provides legal training workshops for community organizers, community education that may impact thousands of people at the grass roots, training of students for potential careers in public interest law, and efforts to influence governmental policy to ensure equality for Asian Americans.
The fund also coordinates with other ethnically based interest groups, such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, to maintain hard-won gains in civil rights. It is also a founding member of the Public Interest Law Center in New York City.
One example of the assistance AALDEF provides occurred in connection with the events of
In 2008, AALDEF won a settlement of $4.6 million in back wages for thirty-six Chinese immigrant workers at a Manhattan restaurant. During that same year, it organized the first
Another example of AALDEF activism occurred during the 2008 presidential election. With record turnouts from first-time Asian American voters and those who had recently become American citizens, there were numerous problems with inadequate language assistance, misspelled names on election rolls, lack of appropriate materials in voters’ native languages, and even evidence of anti-Asian hostility. AALDEF dispatched more than 1,400 attorneys, volunteers, and law students to numerous polling stations in areas with large Asian American populations to hear complaints and gather exit-polling data.
Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund. Asian American Access to Democracy in the 2008 Elections. New York: Author, 2009. Report presented to the U.S. Congress about problems faced by Asian Americans in several states while voting during the 2008 elections. Available online in PDF format. Kim, Hyung-chan. A Legal History of Asian Americans, 1790-1990. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994. Examination of legal issues relating to Asian immigrants, especially during their early years in the United States. Bibliography, index. Outlook Newsletter. Biannual Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund newsletter outlining the accomplishments of AALDEF in the period since the previous publication. Also available as an online PDF file. Redondo, Brian. Left in the Margins: Asian American Students and the No Child Left Behind Act. New York: Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, 2008. Passed during the George W. Bush administration, the No Child Left Behind Act has not greatly benefited Asian American children. This AALDEF report enumerates the failings of the law. Available online in a PDF format.
Chinese Six Companies
Japanese American Citizens League
United Farm Workers