Asian Law Caucus
55 Columbus Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94111
Phone: (415) 896-1701
Fax: (415) 896-1702
The Asian Law Caucus was founded in 1972 by an attorney, several law students and community volunteers in Oakland, California, to provide legal services to impoverished Asians who lacked access to the system due to cultural/ language barriers or financial capabilities. In 1975, the organization became a member of the United Way, ensuring that a substantial proportion of its budget would be covered. It also opened an office in San Francisco's Chinatown, eventually raising caseloads by 200 percent.
Founded originally as a non membership litigating group, it currently concentrates its efforts on immigration and refugee rights, housing land use redevelopment, employment/labor rights, and criminal defense. In addition to litigation, the caucus also focuses on educational work in these areas through workshops, presentations to groups, and coalition work with other groups such as tenants and tenant activists. The caucus has also created numerous projects, including those devoted to issues of employment/labor, immigration, housing, garment, elderly and the Korematsu/Hirabayashi cases to facilitate its goals.
The caucus has a total of 12 staff members, 4 of whom are attorneys. Volunteer lawyers provide 5 to 7 percent of the caucus's legal work and six to ten interns a year provide an additional complement to the caucus's staff efforts.
Foundations provide 45 percent of the caucus's budget of $350,000. Awards of attorneys' fees (20 percent) provide the next largest segment of its budget, while private individual contributions (15 percent), government funding (10 percent), and fundraising (10 percent) account for the remainder. Administrative expenses consume 70 percent of this budget, 20 percent goes for litigation, and 10 percent for publications and other public information.
At the highest appellate levels the caucus prefers to limit its participation to that of amicus (as co-signers) to express its support of important issues. At intermediate levels it most frequently appears as co-counsel and also frequently assumes that role at the trial court level because of limited resources. It generally prefers to file cases in state court.
Potential cases come from a number of sources, including client and agency referrals. Cases are chosen based on the number of cases on which attorneys are currently working and whether they fall into a priority area or the resources/ expertise of caucus lawyers. Priority areas include housing, employment, and immigration. The caucus has, for example, been involved in lawsuits or investigations involving numerous Chinese restaurants for wage and hour violations, Gunne Sax for termination of its entire cutting departments, and evictions of Chinatown residents from residential hotels and apartments. It has also defended Chinatown garment workers charged with unemployment compensation fraud by alleging selective enforcement of the law. And in Fujita v. Sumitomo Bank (1976), in cooperation with Equal Rights Advocates (ERA), it filed an unsuccessful class-action sex discrimination suit against the Japanese bank. In representing the community, the Asian Law Caucus worked with a team of private attorneys in successfully petitioning the court to vacate Fred Korematsu's wartime conviction. The Korematsu, Yasui and Hirabayashi cases were used to uphold the legality of the evacuation and internment of over 110,000 Japanese-Amer- icans during World War II. The court found that the internment was not justified and that racism was a key factor in the government's decision. Thanks to its efforts, an amicus was filed on behalf of Korematsu, Yasui and Hirabayashi in United States v. Hohri (1987), dealing with claims for Japanese-American in-ternment during World War II. It also has challenged an Immigration and Nat-uralization Service practice of excluding Filipino elderly from reentering the United States because they had received public benefits.
The caucus routinely cooperates with a number of organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, San Francisco Lawyers for Urban Affairs, the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the National Lawyers Guild, the Asian-American Legal Defense and Education Fund, and private attorneys. For example, in DeRonde v. Regents of the University of California (1981), the caucus filed an amicus brief with the Asian-American Legal Defense and Education Fund and the Asian-American Bar Association in support of the university's minority admissions program.
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