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Eligible Asian American voters in Texas are more politically organized than ever before and are poised to make an impact this election.
Rapid growth in this population, current government policies and the 2020 Census may have contributed to the group's active participation in this election cycle and possible continued political dialog after Nov. 3.
Texas has the third largest population of eligible Asian American voters in the U.S. with 698,000 voters. The latest Census Bureau data shows Austin's Asian community has grown, becoming the second largest in the state with more than 80,000 Asians—surpassing the Black population for the first time in history.
At least five Texan candidates of South Asian descent are running for county, state and federal office this year which is indicative of heightened political awareness within the community, The Texas Tribune reports.
"We have more Asians running for office activating our communities. Also, we have seen heinous attacks on our communities from the White House through policies around immigration, racist COVID-19 attacks, and the Muslim ban that has made our community want to stand up and fight back," said immigration attorney Pooja Sethi, District 10 Austin City Council candidate.
Asian American voters exhibit tremendous diversity in terms of national origin, geographic region, religion and English-langauge proficiency, according to Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote, a national nonpartisan organization that mobilizes Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, or AAPI, in electoral and civic participation.
Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Japanese, Filipino, Cambodian, Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan, Hmong and Laotian origin voters are included in the Asian category, according to AAPI Data, a publisher of demographic data and policy research.
In many cases, Asian Americans are naturalized citizens who did not grow up with the American political system. They could not apply the same political ideology in the U.S. that they had seen in their home countries.
"It is important for Asians to be a part of the political process to have our voices heard, and work long term for a strong sustainable community through political voice and engagement," said Ahmed Moledina, chairman-elect of the Greater Austin Asian American Chamber of Commerce.
In 2016, only about half of 1.3 million Asian Americans in Texas were eligible voters.
This year, politically active organizations in the Asian community collaborated in forums, where they invited political candidates to meet the population. Zoom made it easy to attend and attendees spoke about issues that mattered to them.
WiseUp TX, a non-partisan non-profit that informs the Asian population about political issues, had over 1,500 attendees in each of its three forums this election season on Facebook. It partnered with the Greater Austin Asian Chamber of Commerce and 20 other AAPI organizations to host Democratic, Republican and Libertarian candidates for the Texas House, city of Austin and Travis and Williamson counties.
"Community attendance gives you a really great indication of how organized all Asian American and Pacific Islander, AAPI, organizations, including the South Asian community, are to make sure our community is continuously informed in all the ways that we can really make a difference this election cycle," said Azra Siddiqi, founder of WiseUp TX.
According to a 2020 Asian American Voter Survey, most in the Asian American Pacific Islander communities have concerns for health care, immigration, the environment, guns and education. A live survey conducted by Pakistani American Collaboration for Texas, or PACT, a political advocacy group, reflected the same this October.
Co-founder of PACT Imran Baqai said the organization has already started planning post-election discussions on "polarized topics" such as healthcare, immigration, gun control and police reform.
"The last four years have energized this group and forced them to wake up, get organized, and get involved in the political process," Baqai said. "The nomination of Kamala Harris has also energized the entire immigrant community," added Sabiha Rahman, co-founder of Friends of India Texas, another recently formed Asian political group. Vice presidential nominee Harris' mother is an Indian immigrant.
Additionally, the much politicized Census has encouraged community leaders to get involved with the Asian American population. The result is that members of the community are much more aware of the benefits of participating and the risks of going uncounted.
"Several community leaders took on the challenge to ensure every member of the community is counted. There is great concern about justice, polarization and political rhetoric," Ashwin Ghatalia, a member of Indian American Coalition of Texas, said.
While it is unknown if Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders can turn this particular election, the fact that many community leaders are getting involved and several diverse candidates are standing for office could indicate a coming shift in the Texan political spectrum.
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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced Monday that Texas will opt out of further federal unemployment benefits related to the pandemic effective June 26, citing the number of current job openings and concern about potentially fraudulent unemployment claims. The benefits include a $300 weekly supplement.
"The Texas economy is booming and employers are hiring communities across the state," Abbott said in a statement. "According to the Texas Workforce Commission, the number of job openings in Texas is almost identical to the number of Texans who are receiving unemployment jobs."
TWC listed 837,273 job openings as of Monday afternoon compared to 226,849 unemployment insurance claims filed statewide between March 31 and May 1. An estimated 1 million Texans were unemployed as of March, according to latest estimates released by the state agency.
Some local business owners, including Doc's Backyard Grill owner Charles Milligan, suspect unemployment benefits are deterring Austinites from returning to work. But others agree with economists who say multiple factors are at play, including health concerns and child care availability.
We're seeing lots of posts about how nobody wants to work right now. Just wanted to share our experience.
We received over 60 resumes for a taproom bartender position we posted last week. Every applicant we've set up an interview with has shown up.
People want 𝘨𝘰𝘰𝘥 work.
— Austin Beerworks (@AustinBeerworks) May 11, 2021
Abbott also cited fraudulent unemployment claims. Between March 2020 and April 2021, TWC received 4.48 million unemployment benefit applications, 611,000 or around 14% of which were tagged as suspicious. Most of those tagged were blocked before any benefits were paid out, according to an April 29 press release.
Federal law requires the effective date of such benefits change to be at least 30 days after the U.S. Department of Labor is notified.
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