Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Testimony :: Mr. Kerry Doi
President/CEO - Pacific Asian Consortium in Employment (PACE)


Chairman Hastings, Representative Solis, Members of Congress and Distinguished Guests.

I appreciate this opportunity to present our perspectives and experience working with Migrant communities in the Los Angeles area.

PACE—which stands for Pacific Asian Consortium in Employment--is proud to be a success story for immigrants. Since our founding in 1976, PACE has served more than a half a million low income people living in the Los Angeles area. Of these, almost two thirds have been, and continue to be, people who are new to the United States.

Having worked with hundreds of thousands of immigrants over the past 31 years we believe that we have learned a little about what works and what doesn’t and we welcome the opportunity to share some of what we have learned with the Commission.

Los Angeles County has one of the largest and fastest growing immigrant populations in the United States. Immigrants bring a huge surge of energy and possibilities to the economy of the entire area.

Founded in 1976 by leaders in the Asian Pacific Islander communities in LA who knew that having a job was critical for economic prosperity, family stability and community growth, PACE’s initial activities were in job training and placement.

Over the years we added programs that provided complimentary services to our primary target population: low income immigrant and ethnic minority people living in central LA. Today we offer a full range of programs and services to help families achieve economic self sufficiency including: Head Start, Energy Conservation Services, Emergency Utility Payments, Affordable Housing, Asset Building and Financial Education and Small Business Development. Over the years too, our geographic focus has shifted to reflect the shifting of ethnic immigrant populations due to increased numbers, economic prosperity or arrival of new ethnic groups. PACE now serves a wide swath of Los Angeles extending from the South Bay, through Central LA and out to the San Gabriel Valley.

So what makes a program work to empower immigrants to use their skills, energy and ingenuity to fully engage with their new country and make a positive contribution?

First and foremost, we believe that you must respect their heritage and experience. More than 85% of PACE’s staff speak one or more languages in addition to English—a total of more than 25 languages and dialects in all. And some staff speak three or more languages. But it is more than just language. It is also important to understand the culture and life experience of our clients. One example is the problem of getting immigrants to use banks. Many come from countries with unstable or non existent banking systems. Many escaped from repressive governments. As a result not only do they not understand our banking system….they don’t trust ANY banking system. Traditional means of outreach and program recruitment won’t work in this case. Trust, word of mouth referrals and experience over time with relatives, friends and neighbors are essential elements to be able to effectively reach deep into immigrant communities and be considered to be an organization to be trusted to provide assistance.

After we have overcome the language, culture, trust and experiential barriers, what kinds of programs, resources and services are needed? PACE has identified eight program elements that we offer that we believe are critical to effectively empowering migrant communities and promoting prosperity. They include:

1. English as a Second Language (ESL) - Overcoming the language barrier is a must for immigrants to be able to fully participate in economic and civic life. While it is often possible for immigrants to stay within the confines of a specific ethnic enclave that allows them to function without learning English, their economic opportunity will be severely constrained. PACE has a partnership with the Los Angeles Unified School District to provide ESL classes 3 times a week through our WorkSource Job Center. This is a program we have offered to our clients for more than 25 years.

2. Financial Education – Understanding the American banking system and gaining a credit history is imperative for immigrants to achieve their American dreams. Immigrants who stay outside the traditional banking systems are subject to usurious fees from storefront check cashing services and may be taken advantage of by unscrupulous people who prey on their fears and their cash. With funding from several banks including HSBC, Bank of America, Wachovia, and Washington Mutual PACE has created a financial education program that teaches people the benefits of establishing a relationship with a financial institution, how to repair their credit, how to budget and save. Recently PACE’s financial education program has expanded to include foreclosure mitigation counseling for immigrants. Lack of English skills, lack of understanding of banking, fear and shame combine to compound the ravaging effects of the current housing crisis on immigrant communities.

3. Asset Accumulation – Building on financial education, there are many existing government and private bank programs that help low income people leverage their resources and promote savings. PACE is the largest provider of Individual Development Accounts in Los Angeles County. This program, from the US Department of Health and Human Services administered through the United Way of Greater Los Angeles, leverages participants’ savings 2:1. PACE also has a 1:1 match IDA program for high school students and people with compromised credit funded by HSBC. Another program that partners government and private funding is the VITA program—Volunteer Income Tax Assistance. PACE provides free tax preparation assistance and electronic filing for low income clients. We also promote utilization of the Low Income Tax Credit for eligible filers. Other funding for PACE’s Asset Building Program comes from the Weingart Foundation, Wachovia Foundation, Union Bank of California and Bank of America.

4. Job Training - The founders of PACE were leaders in the Asian Pacific Islander communities in Los Angeles who understood the importance a job can make for a low income, immigrant family—in terms of health, pride, educational attainment, civic engagement, and economic self sufficiency and prosperity.

Over the past 31 years PACE has trained and/or placed more than 125,000 people in good jobs, including more than 25,000 Political and Economic Asylees. As part of our current job training and placement services, PACE is a one-stop service center funded by the City of Los Angeles Workforce Investment Board. Recognizing that we can no longer rely on government programs alone, we create partnerships to benefit our clients. In addition to offering ESL classes three days a week with LAUSD and access to other PACE programs, we have co-located within in our WorkSource center representatives from a variety of public and private agencies that truly make PACE a “one stop shop”:

• State of California Employment Development Department

• City of Los Angeles Department on Aging

• Housing and Energy Assistance Program

• Los Angeles County Senior Employment Resources

• City of Los Angeles Handyworker Program

• Private, non profit, “Dress for Success”

• Subsidized Training Employment Program—State program to transition people from welfare to work

• Department of Rehabilitation

• Los Angeles County Office of Education – Vocational Education programs

We also partner with employers to annually conduct an Asian Career Expo to encourage major employers located in Southern California and throughout the nation to hire Asian workers. We have also partnered with the Teamsters’ Union to create a truck driver training program, retailers for a retail clerk training and security companies to train security guards. With private foundation support PACE is inaugurating a “Green Jobs” training program to meet the needs of the emerging solar industry.

5. Business Development - With the civil unrest of 1992 we made a startling discovery: many of our low income clients and constituents lost their incomes because of the many small businesses that were burned out. These constituents were both employees of these small businesses and many were also the owners of small businesses. In fact, many immigrants become entrepreneurs because it offers the most immediate (or the only) way for them to earn a living. Undaunted at the prospect of hard work, immigrant entrepreneurs have transformed life in Southern California over the last 15 years. Although government data does not measure what share of all LA businesses are owned by immigrants, the number of firms in the region with less than five employees increased by 67% between 1994 and 2004. The net gain of 104,388 firms accounted for 94% of the overall growth in the number of businesses during this period. To enable a small business to adequately support a family, parents often enlist the help of their teenage children—resulting in more parental involvement and less time when children are unsupervised. An unexpected consequence of immigrants owning a small business is increased family cohesion, increased academic performance of children and decreased crime and gang involvement by children.

PACE’s Business Development Center was started with funding from the US Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Community Services, Job Opportunities for Low Income people program—known as JOLI,. Since convening our first class in late 1992, PACE has trained more than 16,000 entrepreneurs, helped start or expand more than 8,000 businesses, creating almost 10,000 jobs! These businesses have generated more than $2 BILLION in business and paid more than $177 million in sales taxes—more than $37 million in 2007!

PACE’s BDC recently received additional funding from the JOLI program to expand our very successful BDC to the San Gabriel Valley. The BDC also receives funding from the Los Angeles Business Assistance Program through the City Economic Development Department, Comerica Bank, Union Bank of California, Bank of America, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Refugee Resettlement.

6. Affordable Housing – The high cost of housing in southern California is legendary—and true. Overcrowding is rampant, especially among immigrant populations. Using a variety of government programs including Low Income Housing Tax Credits, Place-based Section 8 Certificates, HOME Funds, City of Industry Bonds and conventional financing PACE has created and manages 190 units of housing that is affordable to people who have incomes between 50% and 80% of Area Median Income. It isn’t much. It isn’t enough. But it is a start. We are working very hard to identify new sites where we can create additional affordable housing properties.

7. Family Services – All families find it challenging to raise children. Parents who have low incomes, limited English skills and limited support systems because they have immigrated to a new country are especially vulnerable. PACE offers early childhood education to 1600 low income children and their parents in 23 sites from the South Bay, through Central Los Angeles to the San Gabriel Valley. Funded by Head Start through the Los Angeles Office of Education, PACE provides a wide range of health, mental health, nutrition, parenting skills, leadership opportunities and other services to the families while providing enriching early learning experiences for children.

The programs mentioned above all receive funding from a variety of public and private sources. But there is one additional key service that PACE provides that goes almost entirely unfunded. That is, for lack of a better term, Mentoring and Advocacy. The transitional trauma that impacts individuals and families who immigrate to a new country cannot be underestimated. This is exacerbated if the reason for the immigration is because of war, persecution, political instability and a hundred other reasons. PACE’s staff and clients have stories of their journey to America that would make you weep. Brothers who disappeared. Children who drowned in sight but out of reach. Families sleeping in fox holes and eating bugs. That they arrived in the United States at all is a miracle. It is a further miracle that, after all they have been through, they still have the initiative, the energy and the resolve to keep fighting, keep struggling, keep working hard to achieve their American Dreams. Many of the men and women of PACE share their experiences. It infuses what we do with an appreciation, a respect and a humanity that transcends programs and funding; rules and regulations. PACE works very hard to identify programs and funders that share our passion for low income people of all ethnicities and nationalities who just want a chance. We try to give them that chance.

Ironically, the one thing that is the most difficult—dare I say almost impossible—to fund is the time it takes to simply guide these immigrants: the time to have a compassionate conversation, the time it takes to help a family sort out a bureaucratic snafu, the time it takes to inculcate these activities with the respectful traditions of their now-lost homeland and culture. Our staff squeezes in the time to do these “extra” things—while keeping an eye on our important “productivity” numbers.

So what proactive policy development could government undertake to help PACE do what we do better and for more people? Eight critical areas immediately come to mind:

1. Direct Job Training funding to Community Development Corporations (CDCs) that does not “trickle down” through state and local government

2. Expansion of the Community Reinvestment Act to include the new, emerging class of banks that are currently exempt—such as Insurance Company or retail-sponsored banks.

3. Restoration of the Community Reinvestment Act to again include banks that have been exempted over the years, to decrease intervals between CRA exams and to replace emphasis on the CRA portion of bank exams.

4. Elevate and increase affordable housing responsibilities for Government Sponsored Enterprises (GSEs).

5. We need Congress to insist on continued enforcement of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which states that “Simple justice requires that public funds, to which all taxpayers of all races [colors, and national origins] contribute, not be spent in any fashion which encourages, entrenches, subsidizes or results in racial [color or national origin] discrimination.”

6. In light of Title VI, we need Congress to be diligent in their insistence that economic support programs such as those being enacted now in response to the Mortgage Foreclosure crisis be EQUALLY available to people in need in ALL communities; not just the organizations that have long-standing government connections.

7. Increased funding for Refugee and Immigrant services and inclusion of funding for services for political and economic Asylees. While some refugees qualify for some limited assistance programs, Asylees are an “invisible” component of the immigrant population. In Los Angeles County alone it is estimated that there are more than 100,000 Asylees in addition to the millions of other immigrants. There is a dire need for funding for transition services for these people.

8. And lastly, we need for Congress to have the kind of vision that sparked the community development movement in the 1960s. We need a long-overdue acknowledgment of the important role that non profit community development corporations play in providing services for low income people in our most blighted communities. Foundations are trying, banks have stepped up to the plate, and the federal government’s commitment to communities dwindles each year. We need Congress to fund our nation’s experienced, proven, dedicated CDCs—organizations like PACE—at a level that will enable them to really make a difference for our most vulnerable residents living in our most depressed communities.

In closing, I would like to reiterate that America is a nation of immigrants. They provide a vibrancy, resilience and energy to our nation. Programs that serve to ease their way into life in America are not expenses—they are investments; investments in America’s greatest asset – our people. As the United States faces an ever hostile world we still stand as a beacon of hope, freedom and opportunity. We need immigration policies that keep our country safe—economically and physically. But we also need immigration policies AND SUPPORTS that acknowledge that we have a special role as a safe haven for people whose lives are in peril. We need to not forget that we are a nation of immigrants and that is a source of our strength.

PACE looks forward to continuing to help the immigrants in Los Angeles achieve their American Dreams and become important contributors to our communities and our nation.