Obergefell v. Hodges:  A Victory For Asian Pacific Americans

By John Vang
AABANY LGBT Committee


The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges,  576 U.S. ___ (2015), was monumental.  Legally, Obergefell extended the fundamental right to marry, rooted in the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process and equal protection clauses, to same sex couples.  Socially, it powerfully affirmed same sex relationships and represented, for some, the culmination of a long movement for gay rights, and, for others, simply one step, albeit a significant one, in a continued struggle for full equality.  

For myself and other gay Asian Pacific Americans (APAs), our families, and communities, the decision’s impact is real. The Williams Institute estimates that 325,000 APA adults in the United States identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT).  Nearly 33,000 APA persons are in same-sex relationships with over a quarter raising children.  The numbers are undoubtedly greater when accounting for those not reporting.  By recognizing same sex marriages, the Supreme Court ruling has dramatically transformed our communities and has also implicated matters that inhere in marriage, such as immigration, as nearly 20 percent of APA individuals in same-sex couples are non-citizens.

Compellingly, Obergefell conveys an important cultural message. I come from a conservative, Christian Asian American family. For such a family, strongly influenced by rule of law and authority, the decision in many ways, takes out of the debate the wrongness or rightness of same-sex relationships, as there can be no greater validation afforded than by that of the highest court of the land.  Of course, as a nation, the ruling remains contentious, as Americans, framing objections primarily in religious terms, remain divided on the issue. Within the APA community, responses to same-sex marriage have ranged from full acceptance (such as by the Japanese American’s Citizen’s League, the first non-LGBT national ethnic organization to take a stand in support of gay marriage) to outright hostility (such as Hak-Shing William Tan, a Chinese American evangelical supporter of California’s Proposition 8, notoriously warning that if same-sex marriage were to be treated as civil right, then so too would pedophilia, polygamy and incest).

Whatever the opinions, however, for APAs, the ruling elicits parallels between struggles for gay and APA rights. Obergefell drew from the Supreme Court’s 1967 ruling in Loving v. Virginia, commonly understood as legalizing marriages between black and white persons.  But Loving also overturned anti-miscegenation laws that explicitly targeted APAs, a legacy of anti-Asian exclusion in the U.S.  Thus, Obergefell reinforces that, from exclusion and obscurity to inclusion and acceptance, the movement for APA rights is inseparable from that of LGBT rights.  

This landmark decision marks a new era, but we must continue to foster visibility, pride, and acceptance for LGBT Asian-Americans in our families, communities, and the nation at large.  Supporting organizations such as NQAPIA (National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance) doing groundbreaking work to assert APA LGBT visibility nationwide is critical in that regard.  

Moreover, we must strive for justice in the areas that continue to affect our communities, such as discrimination in employment, public accommodations, and housing, as well as pushing for immigration and criminal justice reform.  As the court poignantly put it:  “The nature of injustice is that we may not always see it in our own times. The generations that wrote and ratified the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment did not presume to know the extent of freedom in all of its dimensions, and so they entrusted to future generations a charter protecting the right of all persons to enjoy liberty as we learn its meaning. When new insight reveals discord between the Constitution’s central protections and a received legal stricture, a claim to liberty must be addressed.”  As Asian Pacific Americans we applaud this decision and continue in the movement for full equality. 


This article was originally published in the Summer 2015, Volume XVI, Issue III of The AABANY Advocate, which can be read in its entirety here. To see all past versions of The AABANY Advocate, click here. To learn more about AABANY’s newsletter, you can email naf.kwun@aabany.org.

To learn more about AABANY’s LGBT Committee, click here. You can email Co-Chair Glenn Magpantay at glenn.magpantay@aabany.org.

Letter from AABANY President Will Wang

Dear AABANY Members:

I hope you all have been enjoying your summer as well as enjoying AABANY’s 2015-16 year-to-date.  AABANY has been very busy charting new frontiers and I know many of you have been along for the ride.  Our spring and summer have been jam-packed months full of events, networking opportunities, and continuing legal education.

AABANY has sponsored or co-sponsored numerous events throughout the year thus far and I will attempt to highlight some of our most prominent achievements.  

In April, AABANY co-sponsored, with the Korean American League for Civil Action (“KALCA”), a forum on the Specialized High School Admissions Test to discuss and weigh-in on efforts to change the way admissions to specialized New York City high schools are administered.  AABANY also organized weekend cultural tours of the New-York Historical Society exhibit called “Chinese-American: Exclusion-Inclusion.”

The month of May, which is APA Heritage Month, was certainly an exciting and historic month.  Our Women’s Committee held its New York premiere of “Kicking Glass From the Courtroom to the Boardroom: Two Decades and Counting,” a video project followed by a panel discussion covering the hurdles women have faced in the legal profession, the successes they have achieved, and what success means to them.  

Kathy Chin and Judge Denny Chin continued their extremely successful trial re-enactments series with “Justice Denied: Ward’s Cove Packing Co., Inc. v. Atonio,” which was performed at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP.

Also in May, New York City welcomed two new judges to the bench who made history with their appointments.  Judge Raja Rajeswari became the first India-born woman to be appointed to the bench in New York City.  Judge Kathryn Paek  became the first Korean-American woman judge on the bench in New York State.  Both women were appointed to the New York City Criminal Court by Mayor Bill de Blasio.

In June, AABANY hosted its annual In-House Counsel & Corporate Law Wine Tasting & Networking Reception at STK Downtown. Our Prosecutors’ Committee hosted its 7th Annual Reception, at Brooklyn Law School, honoring Joon Kim, Deputy United Sates Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and the family of the late Detective Wenjian Liu.

We also welcomed two new Board members to our AABANY family: Diane Gujarati (Deputy Chief, Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney’s Office, Southern District of New York) and Emily Kim (Chief Policy and Legal Officer, Success Academy Charter Schools).  

Finally, our Past President and current Board member, Jean Lee, was honored with the Trailblazer Award at KALAGNY’s 29th Anniversary Gala.  Our In-House Counsel Committee Co-chair Austin So was honored with the Corporate Leadership Award at APALA-NJ’s 18th Anniversary Gala.  

Of course, the biggest legal news of June was the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic decision on marriage equality.  It was a watershed moment that AABANY was proud to bask in along with the community at-large.

Our annual Fall Conference will take place on September 19th, hosted by Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP.  The website for the conference is up (conference2015.aabany.org) and I encourage you to mark your calendars, register, and attend.  

Finally, the NAPABA National Convention is in New Orleans this November 5-8, 2015.   Join us in N’awlins and Po’Boys are on me.


This article was originally published in the Summer 2015, Volume XVI, Issue III of The AABANY Advocate, which can be read in its entirety here. To see all past versions of The AABANY Advocate, click here. To learn more about AABANY’s newsletter, you can email naf.kwun@aabany.org.

Will Wang is AABANY’s President 2015-2016. To read his bio, you can click here. You can reach him at william.wang@aabany.org.

Launch of U-Visa Pro Bono Program a Success

By Christopher Arcitio
AABANY Intern


This past year, AABANY and Legal Services NYC (LSNYC) launched a pilot pro bono project connecting AABANY member-volunteers with undocumented immigrants who are survivors of domestic violence.  Through this unique initiative, AABANY attorneys work with LSNYC clients to prepare U Nonimmigrant Status Visa (U-Visa) applications, which enable victims of crimes such as domestic violence to be eligible for immigration status. Since its launch, the pro bono initiative has been met with continued success.  

The U Nonimmigrant Status Visa (U-Visa)

Created in 2007 by the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Prevention Act, U-Visas protect victims who report crimes and cooperate with law enforcement, even amidst an understandable mistrust of the legal system and fear of possible immigration-related retaliation. On average, the United States approves 10,000 U-Visa applications per year.

To be eligible for a U-Visa, an applicant must meet five requirements. The applicant must:  (1) be a victim of a qualifying crime, such as domestic violence; (2) suffer substantial physical or mental abuse as a result of such crime; (3) possess information concerning the crime; (4) be helpful, or be likely to be helpful in the investigation or prosecution of the crime; and (5) the crime must take place within the boundaries of the United States or violate the laws of the United States. A U-Visa will ultimately grant the applicant legal status to reside and work in the United States.  In addition, the U-Visa allows the victim to petition on behalf of his or her children who are under 21 years of age.  Although a U-Visa expires in four years, an applicant becomes eligible to apply for adjustment of status in the form of a green card within three years.

AABANY’s U-Visa Pro Bono Initiative

AABANY’s pro bono program was geared towards serving marginalized, low-income Asian American women and families with limited English proficiency who have suffered domestic violence.  The leadership of the AABANY Government Service and Public Interest (GSPI) Committee and the Pro Bono and Community Service (PBSC) Committee developed and coordinated the program with the help of staff from LSNYC’s Queens Legal Services (QLS), which is based in Jamaica and operates the Asian Domestic Violence Law Collaborative, a consortium of shelter and counseling organizations serving hard-to-reach Asian immigrant domestic violence survivors. QLS attorneys mentor and support AABANY’s pro bono legal teams.

Thanks to the pro bono initiative, low-income Asian American immigrant families affected by domestic violence have an additional beacon of hope in their search for immigration relief.  

AABANY’s unique pro bono initiative was officially launched in June 2014 with a Continuing Legal Eduction (CLE) training.  Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP kindly hosted the CLE.  Family law and immigration law attorneys from LSNYC, including PBCS Co-Chair and QLS staff attorney June Lee, trained AABANY volunteers on the intricacies of interviewing survivors of domestic violence, preparing survivors’ narratives for affidavits, and other aspects necessary for a successful application for a U-Visa. LSNYC attorneys also serve as mentors to the AABANY volunteers and offer support through the entire process.  Prospective U-Visa applicants are pre-screened and subsequently matched with the trained pro bono attorneys and law students. The objective is for each team to complete the U-visa application for their client.  

Ten survivors of domestic violence so far have received legal representation through the program. Two dozen AABANY members have provided valuable pro bono representation.

U-Visa Pro Bono Program Success Story

Positive results are already emerging. In one case, GSPI Co-Chair Karen Yau, a solo practitioner and mediator, and Dexin Deng, a rising 3L law student at Brooklyn Law School, represented a Chinese client, who had escaped from her husband after being physically abused and psychologically terrorized. After an incident in which the client called the police, the client cooperated with the District Attorney’s office in the investigation and prosecution of her husband abuser. The client was then referred to the New York Asian Women’s Center, a safe haven for women and children that provides counseling, temporary housing, and a legal referral for a client’s immigration case.

The client’s case was referred to AABANY’s pro bono U-Visa project, where Karen and Dexin completed the client’s U-visa application. The efforts of Karen and Dexin allowed QLS to file a subsequent Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Self-Petition for the client as well.  Karen and Dexin spent hours and hours conducting interviews and drafting the application.  This hard work and collaboration was rewarded with great success; the client’s VAWA Self-Petition was approved. The client’s green card application is currently pending.

Looking back at the case, Karen expresses a feeling of genuine satisfaction in the work that was done for the client. “For 45 hours of my time, an entire family now has a chance for a new life,” she said. The pro bono representation of these survivors of domestic violence “can have a major human impact [that] is not only great but can be unexpected.”

For Dexin, the project encouraged her to remain active in pro bono work. As an immigrant herself, she connected with the client.  She notes, “It was amazing to see how different entities worked together to establish and support this pro bono project to serve the low-income Asian American immigrant families.”

Impact of U-Visa Pro Bono Program on AABANY

The U-Visa pro bono program has inspired additional pro bono efforts from AABANY.  

For example, the GSPI and PBCS Committees are coordinating to develop day-long quarterly clinics and a one-time large event to help seniors and disabled individuals freeze their rents by applying for the Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE) and Disability Rent Increase Exemption (DRIE) programs. AABANY is working with Manhattan Legal Services to implement this event. Council Member Margaret Chin is supporting the effort.

In addition, the GSPI and PBCS Committees are looking for community partners and exploring the idea of providing representation to eligible Chinese to apply for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA).

Lastly, AABANY is exploring the idea of establishing a monthly Pro Bono Clinic that would provide one-shot legal advice and/or referrals to low-income individuals in the Asian American community. This inaugural effort would be modeled after similar programs at sister bar associations.

Those interested in becoming involved with this pilot pro bono project should contact Karen Kithan Yau, Government Service and Public Interest Committee Co-Chair (karen.yau@aabany.org) or June Lee, Pro Bono and Community Committee Service Co-Chair (june.lee@aabany.org).  

AABANY applauds the efforts of Karen Yau, June Lee, and Dexin Deng for their time and dedication to the APA community!  

Special thanks to June, Karen and Dexin for their invaluable assistance and cooperation in researching and drafting this article. 


This article was originally published in the Summer 2015, Volume XVI, Issue III of The AABANY Advocate, which can be read in its entirety here. To see all past versions of The AABANY Advocate, click here. To learn more about AABANY’s newsletter, you can email naf.kwun@aabany.org.

Chris Arcitio was AABANY’s Summer 2015 Intern. He is currently a student at St. John’s School of Law.

2015 Fall Conference Sneak Peak

By Marianne Chow
AABANY Vice President of Programs and Operations


On Saturday, September 19, 2015, AABANY will present its Sixth Annual Fall Conference,  Charting New Frontiers, hosted by Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP.   The Fall Conference consists of a full day of programs in a wide variety of areas of law geared towards promoting knowledge, business and professional development.  Read on for highlights from this year’s Fall Conference.  For more information and to register online, visit us at: conference2015.aabany.org

Inaugural Diversity Career Fair

We are excited to announce our inaugural Diversity Career Fair, where we look forward to featuring selected public sector and corporate sector employers who will host informational sessions, meet and greet interested applicants, and in some instances, conduct first-round on-site interviews.  Attendees will also have an opportunity to meet members of the AABANY Career Placement Committee, receive career advice and learn more about other job openings.  

CLEs and Career Panels

An impressive roster of CLE programs will cover cutting edge topics in areas ranging from tax to intellectual property to international arbitration to civil rights, such as:  

  • Justice for All:  LGBT Civil Rights and the API Community; 
  • Legal Perspectives on the Continuing Evolution of Media; and 
  • Hot Topics in Immigration Law—What is the Current Status of Executive Action, and Other Immigration Measures?

We will also offer several career-focused panels aimed to help APA attorneys advance, whether to equity partner, general counsel or the judiciary, such as: 

  • Business Development and Advancement for Firm Practitioners and In-House Attorneys–What Works and What Doesn’t?; 
  • Exploring In-House Legal and Non-Legal Paths; and 
  • Pathways to the Judiciary.  

Special Programming

This year’s Plenary Lunch Session will feature Kicking Glass: Two Decades and Counting, a follow-up program to a video first presented by AABANY at the 1995 NAPABA Convention. Kicking Glass revisits questions on hurdles faced by APA women in law, the successes they achieved, and what success means to them.  A video screening will be followed by a panel discussion which will aim to assess whether APA women attorneys have finally broken the glass ceiling after 20 years and to identify what challenges remain.  

For current and aspiring litigators, we offer our 4th Annual Trial Advocacy Program (TAP), a full-day program offering participants an opportunity to conduct their own openings, directs, cross-examinations and closings, followed by personalized critique from our distinguished APA faculty members which have included judges and practitioners. This year, we are proud to present as our TAP keynote speaker Hon. Kiyo A. Matsumoto, of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

Apply for a slot in our Law Firm Pitch Sessions, which matches law firms and solo practitioners with AABANY’s expanding network of in-house counsel. These sessions allow outside counsel to showcase their services that are relevant to in-house counsel and who have been specifically selected based on in-house counsel’s needs.  

Finally, join us for a Cocktail Reception during which we will launch our 2015-2016 Mentorship Program, which provides support, advice and networking opportunities to aid both mentors and mentees in their professional and personal development.  We encourage AABANY members to apply to be a mentor and/or a mentee at http://www.aabany.org/default.asp?page=542 by no later than August 21, 2015.

Register Today!

To register for the Fall Conference, click here.  A discounted rate is available for AABANY members.  All participants who register on or before September 4, 2015 will receive a further discount on the registration fee.  Attendees may also sign up in advance for one of the Post-Conference Dinners hosted by various AABANY Committees.  Please contact fall.conference@aabany.org if you have any other inquiries regarding the Fall Conference. 


This article was originally published in the Summer 2015, Volume XVI, Issue III of The AABANY Advocate, which can be read in its entirety here. To see all past versions of The AABANY Advocate, click here. To learn more about AABANY’s newsletter, you can email naf.kwun@aabany.org.

For more information about the Fall Conference, click here. Questions can be directed at fall.conference@aabany.org.