AABANY Hosts Panel on Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity in the Workplace and Beyond

On July 28, 2020, the Asian American Bar Association of New York (AABANY) hosted an event addressing diversity, inclusion, and equity in the workplace and beyond. Moderated by Margaret Ling, Director of Business Development and Co-Chair of the Real Estate Committee at AABANY, the panel featured: William H. Ng, Shareholder at Littler Mendelson and former Co-Chair of the Labor & Employment Law Committee of AABANY; Donna Dozier Gordon, Director of Diversity and Inclusion at USTA; Asker A. Saeed, Diversity and Inclusion Consultant and Principal at Saeed Consulting; Sean Bacchus, CEO and Founder of the Executive Diversity and Inclusion Council; and Prof. Meredith R. Miller, President of the Network of Bar Leaders. 

The program began with an acknowledgment of Congressman John Lewis, a civil rights icon who recently passed away. Margaret urged the participants to follow the Congressman’s famous words, to get in “good trouble,” as they work to make their communities more equitable and representative.

Will Ng opened by recounting his experience with diversity and inclusion while working in large law firms. He noted that law firms need to have support from management and leadership in order to succeed in creating a more diverse workplace. He also stressed that recruitment was not the issue, but rather, retaining diverse, younger talent.

Asker Saeed followed by outlining steps that may help large law firms advance their diversity and inclusion efforts. First, law firms should think about their reason for promoting diversity: not only is it the right thing to do, but it is also better for business. Firms should hire the best people, and the best attorneys are not only one gender, race, ethnicity, or sexuality. Second, firms should examine their systems and procedures, particularly in lateral hiring and promotions. For example, when partners are asked to recommend people to a position, they are likely going to recommend individuals who look like them or remind them of themselves, thus perpetuating the status quo that partners should be white, male, straight, etc.. Thirdly, firms should hire and pay someone to be in charge of diversity and inclusion for greater accountability, as well as create a specific budget for diversity and inclusion initiatives. Finally, law firms should create more opportunities for all people to prove their abilities and advance in the organization.

Meredith R. Miller added that, in 2016, the American Bar Association identified discrimination as professional misconduct. She emphasized that firms should not focus on not discriminating, but rather being anti-discrimination and anti-racist. She also urged bar associations to build pipelines for minority communities in the legal field.

Donna Gordon examined the connection between diversity and inclusion in the workplace and the Black Lives Matter movement. Due to the nation’s changing landscape, especially after the Black Lives Matter movement, the success of a firm will depend on its ability to hire and retain diverse talent. Black Lives Matter has reignited corporate interest in diversity and inclusion. However, despite the long history of these diversity initiatives, African Americans still do not experience as much advancement in the workplace. Donna urged participants to focus on addressing the gaps in the African American talent pipeline by tapping into wider networks.

Finally, Sean Bacchus stressed that organizations must be recognized for their progress and held accountable for the work they are not engaging in. Mentorship and sponsorship from senior leaders towards minorities are very important, especially given the prevalence of nepotism in large firms. Sean also urged firms to not only target Ivy League students during recruitment but also look at the CUNY system.

We thank Margaret Ling for organizing and moderating the successful event, and the panelists for offering their valuable insights. Attendees received 1.0 credits in the diversity, inclusion, and elimination of bias requirement, and 0.5 credits in the ethics requirement. To view a recording of the program, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yxb4uylxkMQ or click the image above.

AABANY and Community Land Trust Hosts Successful Rent Relief Application Drive

The COVID Rent Relief Program (“RRP”) held by Community Land Trust (“CLT”) and the Asian American Bar Association of New York (“AABANY”) concluded on July 26th, 2020 with an application drive in Chinatown. During the term of outreach, the program received over 125 voicemails and online form submissions. On the day of the drive, 25 volunteers aided over 100 walk-in applicants who had been screened for qualification. 

The application drive held on July 26th at the Florentine School was expeditiously put together in five days, to accommodate the quickly approaching application deadline of July 30th*, by AABANY’s Pro Bono and Community Service Committee and COVID Student Task Force. Most notably, attorneys May Wong, Angela Wu, William Lee, and law students Dianna Lam, Olympia Moy, Xinyi Shen, and Meng Zhang were the driving factors of the event’s success. To the volunteers, it was imperative to host an in-person event to help the community. “Many Chinatown residents cannot go on Zoom, some don’t even have online access, and, even with online access, some may not find the forms because of language difficulties,” noted Moy. The volunteers have spent tireless hours in organizing the logistics for the event, training for and then evaluating RRP applications of the community, and then following up with intakes for those who are eligible applicants. “One of the most memorable parts of our [RRP], despite all the hurdles we had to navigate through, was how much all the volunteers cared to help our community,” says Lam. Lam add: “All the volunteers patiently and calmly explained to the tenants all their options, any risks they might bear submitting their information, and sat through with each applicant until the application was either fully complete or until the tenants accepted that they did not qualify.”

AABANY again thanks all the volunteers mentioned above, as well as May Mok and Sherman Ngan of AM 1380 & AM 1480 and Jacky Wong, for advertising and covering the event; Samantha Sumilang who provided rent relief training to volunteers over Zoom the day before; Jonathan Hernandez for being on standby for any last minute needs; the APALSA COVID Student Task Force for reaching out to their members for volunteer recruiting; and all other attorney, CLT, and community volunteers who made the event possible.

The RRP was introduced on July 16th, 2020 and first administered by New York State Homes and Community Renewal. The purpose of the RRP is to distribute a $100 million fund amongst the low-income families of New York who have suffered income loss due to the COVID-19 pandemic and are struggling to keep their families in their homes. The $100 million fund was provided by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed by Congress and signed into law by President Trump on March 27th, 2020. The RRP declares that a household is eligible for assistance as long as at least one member in the household has U.S. citizenship or eligible immigration status. All adult household members, regardless of their income earning position, are to be listed on the application form to be considered, including household members with ineligible immigration status. This is a potential grave risk to undocumented immigrants since the federal government could get their information through the RRP. As such, it should be noted that by applying for rent relief, applicants bear the risk of being or having undocumented family members deported.

“The drive’s success is a true testament of our selflessness, passion, and commitment to giving back as a community. We find comfort knowing that our locals are better positioned to receive rent relief,” said Lee.

For additional coverage in Chinese, please see the article written by World Journal here.

*As of July 31st, 2020, the application deadline has been extended to August 6th, 2020.

Allen & Overy Honors the Legacy of Vincent Chin through a Virtual Trial Reenactment

Vincent Chin is a name painfully familiar to some and unrecognizable to others. It is the beginning of so many stories, including mine. Three years ago, I met Annie Tan (no relation to me, though we happen to share the same name), an Asian American activist, teacher, and niece of Vincent Chin. She was the keynote speaker at Crossroads, a conference for young Asian American activists organized by Columbia students. I was a confused 16-year-old attending my first conference dedicated to activism. 

At the time, I had just begun exploring my Asian American identity and history. Through self-education and discussions with other students, I learned about the Chinese Exclusion Act and the model minority myth. But, despite my interest in activism, I did not believe that I could seriously pursue or be successful in creating change for the Asian American community. Who would listen to a young, Asian American girl, not even old enough to vote, talk about race, especially when these conversations are often so complex and black and white?

However, as Annie Tan stood behind the podium and began recounting her own journey in activism–how she found a supportive community through Columbia’s Asian American Alliance, and how the legacy of her uncle, Vincent Chin, affected her work–I realized that someone like me, someone who looked like me and even had the same name as me, could be an activist. Because of Asian American women like Lily Chin and Helen Zia, Vincent Chin’s death became not just a moment, but a movement for Asian Americans. And, it is because of people like Annie Tan, and maybe even people like me, that the story of Vincent Chin, and the story of Asian America, continues to be told and heard.

This year, on May 28, during APA Heritage Month, the Asian American Bar Association of New York (AABANY) co-sponsored a virtual trial re-enactment of the Vincent Chin case with Allen & Overy–the first time a reenactment has been performed virtually via WebEx due to the restrictions of COVID-19. I attended this event, hoping to learn more about the man whose life inspired so many, including myself, to speak out against hatred, violence, and inequity.

Vincent Chin was beaten to death in 1982 in Detroit days before his wedding by two white men, Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz, who were laid-off automobile workers. The fatal assault was preceded by an argument between Chin and Ebens, who hurled racial insults at Chin, reportedly calling him a “Nip.” At the time, Asian Americans were the face of the enemy: the robust Japanese automobile industry was putting many automobile workers in Detroit, like Ebens and Nitz, out of work. 

Despite the violent acts that Chin’s murderers committed, they were imposed only a fine for their crimes. When the case reached the Wayne County Circuit Court, Judge Kaufman, finding Ebens and Nitz guilty of manslaughter, only sentenced them to three years probation and a fine of approximately $3,000. They received no jail time, and no prosecutor appeared during the trial, nor was Chin’s family notified of the trial. 

Frustrated with this outcome, Helen Zia and Lily Chin, supported by the newly-founded Asian American civil rights organization American Citizens for Justice (ACJ), urged the U.S. Department of Justice to bring federal criminal charges against the murderers and investigate the case as a civil rights violation. The case was brought to Judge Anna Diggs Taylor, one of the first African American women to serve on the Federal bench, and in 1984, the U.S. District Court found Ebens guilty of violating the civil rights of Chin and sentenced him to 25 years in prison. However, Ebens’ lawyers appealed, claiming that the trial judge did not allow the defense to present evidence that suggested the prosecution tampered with the witness testimony. This led to a retrial in the federal court in Cincinnati on May 1, 1987, which found that Ebens was not guilty of violating Chin’s civil rights and that his actions were not motivated by Chin’s race. The same year, Ebens and Nitz settled a civil suit out of court, where Nitz was ordered to pay $50,000 and Ebens was ordered to pay $1.5 million to the Chin estate. To this day, Ebens has not served any jail time and has yet to pay the now $8 million (with accumulated interest) he owes to the Chin family.

The Vincent Chin case highlighted the flaws in our criminal justice system and served as a catalyst for Asian American civil rights engagement. Following the trials, federal and state laws were enacted to give victims of hate crimes greater rights. The case also led to reforms in sentencing and plea bargaining, including the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984. Most importantly, Chin’s murder awakened the civil rights consciousness of Asian Americans in a time when the subject of race was still Black and White. Asian Americans were galvanized by the notion that they, just like Vincent Chin, could be beaten to death because of their race without the perpetrators suffering any consequences. People across ethnic and socioeconomic lines joined together to seek justice for Chin, creating organizations such as American Citizens for Justice, now known as the Asian American Center for Justice, focused on civil rights work.

A panel discussion followed the trial re-enactment, featuring: Christine Choy, director of the Academy Award-nominated documentary film, “Who Killed Vincent Chin?” and professor at NYU Tisch School of Arts; Emil Guillermo, print and broadcast journalist, and contributor to the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund’s blog; and Jia Lynn Yang, Deputy National Editor at The New York Times and author of One Mighty and Irresistible Tide, which examines the history of immigration in the United States. The discussion was moderated by John Hwang, Partner, and Jiawei Chin, Associate, at Allen & Overy. 

Christine Choy reflected on the evolution of activism and the Asian American identity, referencing major events such as the end of the Vietnam War, and the rise of the Black Panther Party and other young student movements. She cited the Red Guard Party in Chinatown as an early example of Asian American activism and stressed that Vincent Chin’s murder was responsible for asserting Asian Americans’ role in civil rights.

Emil Guillermo emphasized that though the crime of Vincent Chin awoke people in Detroit, he, himself, did not know as much as he should have about the case. As we approach the 40th anniversary of Chin’s death, most people still do not understand the full picture of what happened during Chin’s case. Guillermo also highlighted the similarities between Vincent Chin’s death and that of George Floyd, urging the Asian American community to recognize their shared experiences with Black communities.

Finally, Jia Lynn Yang noted how quickly the Asian American population has grown, rising from 3.5 million in 1980 to now over 20 million. Despite their growing presence, Asian Americans are still viewed as foreigners who will never belong in the United States, just as Vincent Chin was. In fact, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which allowed many Asian Americans to immigrate to this country, was not consciously written to welcome non-Europeans. Now, however, almost two-thirds of Asian Americans are foreign-born, and the xenophobic attacks Chin faced have transformed into anti-Asian violence and harassment from racially-charged fears over COVID-19.

Many of us are tied to Vincent Chin, often in ways we may not even realize. He is the reason why many individuals, like myself, are inspired and emboldened to engage in Asian American activism. Vincent Chin is not just a memory they think of once a year, on the anniversary of his death. As I listened to Annie Tan describe her family’s pain, and how brave and lonely Lily Chin–her great aunt–was as she fought for her son’s justice, I understood that Vincent’s murder is a wound that continues to haunt families, friends, and communities connected to him, and a legacy that is still alive in Asian Americans today.

It is easy for us to forget their names: Vincent Chin, Trayvon Martin, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Elijah McClain. But we must recognize that these individuals are not simply statistics or hashtags. Their lives–cut short by racism, bigotry, and the failures of our criminal justice system–mattered. Their lives have the power to inspire people to take action against hate and to spark movements, but this is only possible if we continue to learn about and honor these individuals, whose stories have been lost and overlooked. Only then, by acknowledging those before us, can we strive to create real change and avoid repeating the past.

We thank Allen & Overy and all of the participants in the reenactment for giving their time to raise awareness of Vincent Chin’s legacy. To learn more about the Vincent Chin trial reenactment and to request the script, go here. For more information about AABANY’s trial reenactments project, visit https://reenactments.aabany.org/.

NAPABA Raises Concerns About the U.S. ICE Guidance to the Student & Exchange Visitor Program

For Immediate Release:
Date: July 10, 2020

Contact: Priya Purandare, Executive Director

Trump Administration Releases Guidelines to Restrict International Students

Over Fifty Percent of International Students are from Asian Countries

WASHINGTON — The National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA) raises concerns about the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) guidance to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program, which provides matriculated international students in the United States who attend colleges and universities that are online-only this fall will have to transfer to a school that provides in-person classes or leave the country—or else face deportation. The Trump administration is citing the guidance is an effort to push colleges to reopen.

“We are alarmed at the administration’s misguided policy that inflicts great harm on international students during a worldwide pandemic,” said Bonnie Lee Wolf, President of NAPABA. “ICE’s new guidance is not supported by public health considerations and raises flags that it is motivated by animus toward immigrants and non-citizens.”

Asian students will undoubtedly be harmed disproportionately by this policy. In the 2018-19 academic year, there were over 1 million international students and more than 50% came from Asian countries. In 2018, international students also injected nearly $45 billion into our economy. Numerous universities and colleges across the country oppose the new guidance and it threatens to hurt higher education. NAPABA respectfully encourages the administration/ICE to withdraw this guidance immediately, so that international students can continue to fully participate in the educational system.

Over 100 Jurists of Color in New York, Including 6 AABANY Members from Queens, Sign Letter Affirming Equal Justice in Court

On July 8, 2020, over 100 jurists of color across New York, including 13 Queens judges of color, have added their names to a statewide letter affirming their commitment to equal justice and treatment under the law. Of the 13 Queens judges, six are members of the Asian American Bar Association of New York (AABANY): Hon. Karen Gopee, Hon. Wyatt Gibbons, Hon. Phillip Hom, Hon. Dean Kusakabe, Hon. John Lansden, and Hon. Toko Serita.

Led by Syracuse City Court Judge Derrek Thomas, the group formed to address the community in light of George Floyd’s murder and the nationwide protests that followed.

The letter stated: “We reaffirm our commitment to make a positive difference within our respective courts each day and to ensure that those appearing before us are treated equally, with the respect and dignity that both the law and humanity require.”

To read more about the letter, see this Queens Eagle article.

NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Presents: Get Tested & Combat Anti-Asian Bias

On July 13, 2020, from 12:00-1:30 PM, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) Partner Engagement Unit will be hosting a webinar on the Test & Trace Corps.

The Test & Trace Corps is an initiative to reduce COVID-19 transmission in New York City by providing guidance and assistance to people who have COVID-19 or are identified as having been exposed to the virus.

Speakers from the New York City Human Rights Commission (NYCCHR) and the Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes (OPHC) will also provide resources to Asian Pacific Islander (API) communities to report anti-Asian bias and hate crimes that may occur as NYC continues to reopen.

Panelists will include Dr. Neil Vora from the New York City Health Department, Flora Ferng from NYCCHR, and Eunice Lee from OPHC.

Please send any questions for the panel to engagepartners@health.nyc.gov.

Mandarin and Korean Language interpretation will be available for this event.

Register for the webinar via https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_gUZ2JCDeRCaJ4c-vI0Uvcg.

NYCCHR Presents Human Rights Central Queens Community Forum: The Impact of COVID-19, Protections, and Resources

On July 9, 2020, the New York City Commission on Human Rights (NYCCHR) will be hosting a virtual community forum on the impact of COVID-19, protections, and resources.

The panel will feature representatives from the NYCCHR, NYC Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, NYC Mayor’s Office to Protect Tenants, NYC Human Resources Administration, GetFood NYC, and Queens Legal Services.

For more information, see below.

NYCCHR Presents: Combatting Anti-Asian Racism in the Age of the Coronavirus (Mandarin)

On July 9, 2020, the New York City Commission on Human Rights (NYCCHR) will be hosting a virtual panel in Mandarin titled “Combatting Anti-Asian Racism in the Age of the Coronavirus.”

The event is in collaboration with the Chinese-American Family Alliance for Mental Health and the Academy of Medical & Public Health Services.

Panelists include: Flora Ferng, Human Rights Specialist at the NYCCHR; Russel Jeung, PhD, Chair and Professor of Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University; and Kwok Kei Ng, Co-Vice Chair of the Pro Bono and Community Service Committee of the Asian American Bar Association of New York.

For more information, see below.

Pro Bono Committee & AABANY Volunteers Promote New Remote Pro Bono Legal Clinic in Chinatown and Koreatown

On Friday, July 3, 2020, the Pro Bono and Community Service Committee of the Asian American Bar Association of New York (AABANY) launched a flyering campaign to promote the new Remote Pro Bono Legal Clinic in Chinatown and Koreatown. The event was organized by William Lee, Associate at Alston & Bird and an active member of the Pro Bono Committee. The goal of the campaign was to ensure that Asian American small businesses had access to the Pro Bono Clinic’s various resources during this time of great need. Many law students from local APALSAs, including Fordham, Cardozo, and Columbia, volunteered at the start of the 4th of July holiday weekend to assist in distributing the flyers to local businesses.

The Chinatown volunteers were led by Dianna Lam and May Wong, frequent volunteers for the Pro Bono Clinic, and those in Koreatown were led by Will Lee. Both campaigns were very successful, and Dianna Lam and May Wong were even interviewed for the “Around the Boroughs” segment of Spectrum News NY1. Dianna and May emphasized the importance of the Remote Pro Bono Legal Clinic, especially for smaller businesses impacted by COVID-19. Both groups ended the day with a volunteer appreciation lunch at the West New Malaysian Restaurant on Bowery Street. The group was able to sit at tables set up outside the restaurant, spaced out so that they could maintain a social distance.

We thank the Pro Bono Committee members, including Will Lee, Dianna Lam, and May Wong, for their leadership during this campaign. We also thank the students and volunteers who took the time to help the Remote Clinic reach more individuals and businesses in need of legal information. The Pro Bono Committee will be organizing similar campaigns in Flushing, Queens and Bay Ridge, so if you are interested in volunteering, please add your name to this document. Read AABANY’s press release about the Remote Pro Bono Clinic here. For more information on the Pro Bono Committee, see https://www.aabany.org/page/117. To find out more about AABANY’s pro bono resources, visit aabany.org/probono.