Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund

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The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) is a New York-based national organization founded in 1974 that protects and promotes the civil rights of Asian Americans. By combining litigation, advocacy, education, and organizing, AALDEF works with Asian American communities across the country to secure human rights for all.[1]


In 1974, a small group of lawyers, activists and students in Lower Manhattan came together to create a new organization focused on the legal needs of the Asian American community. AALDEF was the first nonprofit organization on the East Coast to focus specifically on defending the civil rights of the Asian American community.

The 1970s

Some early AALDEF advocacy efforts included: calling for the hiring of Chinese American construction workers at Confucius Plaza in Manhattan's Chinatown and mounting a campaign to stop the deportation of Filipino doctors, who had been recruited to fill the shortage of medical personnel in the United States. AALDEF volunteer attorneys represented Chinese Americans arrested in a protest against police brutality in Manhattan's Chinatown and joined a rally to support an innocent bystander, Peter Yew, who was beaten by police after complaining about their mishandling of a minor traffic incident. In 1977, AALDEF organized free legal advice clinics at Hamilton-Madison House, Korean Senior Citizens Society, and other community agencies in New York City. In an early affirmative action case, AALDEF intervened on behalf of the Asian American Law Students Association in Doherty v. Rutgers Law School, defending the inclusion of Asian Americans in minority admissions programs in a lawsuit brought by rejected white law school applicant. AALDEF also filed an amicus brief in the U.S. Supreme Court in Fullilove v. Kreps, supporting the public works set-aside provision of minority businesses, including Asian American enterprises.

The 1980s

Economic justice was a primary focus in the 1980s. AALDEF represented the Chinese immigrant waiters at Silver Palace restaurant in Manhattan's Chinatown. The workers, who were fired for protesting against the employer who stole their tip, later formed the first independent Chinatown restaurant workers' union in the nation. At the first-ever rally of 15,000 Chinese garment workers at New York Chinatown's Columbus Park, who went on strike for a new Local 23-25 ILGWU union contract AALDEF was the only community organization invited to speak at this rally because it took a clear stand in support of the labor rights of low-wage immigrant workers. AALDEF also filed amicus briefs in the U.S. Supreme Court supporting the rights of undocumented immigrants to receive a public education (Plyler v. Doe) and to organize under the National Labor Relations Act (Sure-Tan v. NLRB).

AALDEF was active in two national campaigns generating broad pan-Asian American support across the country. The first involved a demand for the federal civil rights prosecution of the murderers of Vincent Chin, the Chinese American engineer beaten to death by two unemployed auto workers in Detroit. The second was the movement for redress for Japanese Americans, who were incarcerated during World War II solely because of their race and national origin. AALDEF testified in support of Japanese American redress before the U.S. Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, which led to the passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. Civil rights hero Fred Korematsu made his first public appearance in New York City for AALDEF's 10th anniversary celebration at Lincoln Center, featuring the East Coast premiere of Steven Okazaki's film, Unfinished Business, about the Japanese American redress movement. On a local level, AALDEF represented Dr. Kaushal Sharan, one of several South Asians attacked in Jersey City by a hate group named the "dotbusters." AALDEF then helped to secure passage of a hate crimes law in New Jersey and testified before the U.S. House Judiciary Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights about the rise in anti-Asian violence. AALDEF participated in the formation of the Coalition Against Anti-Asian Violence (now called CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities), which organized the first educational forum in New York City on hate violence against Asian Americans.

As to housing and environmental justice, AALDEF launched a fight against gentrification and the displacement of low-income immigrant tenants in Manhattan's Chinatown. We organized the first Chinatown housing fair in New York City, designed to educate residents about rent control and other rent regulation laws and the prohibitions against tenant harassment. In Jin v. Board of Estimate, we filed an amicus brief in NY state court, arguing that English-language notices of zoning changes violated the due process rights of Chinese-speaking tenants. This favorable decision was later reversed on appeal. AALDEF then litigated Chinese Staff and Workers' Association v. City of New York, and won a landmark New York Court of Appeals case . The state's high ruled for the first time that new residential developments that may displace low-income tenants and small businesses are subject to environmental review. This decision blocked the construction of a proposed high-rise luxury condominium tower in Chinatown, subject to further review of city agencies.

The North Star Fund presented AALDEF with the Frederick Douglass Award for "outstanding contributions to the struggle for political, social and economic justice" in 1985.

After the Tienanmen Square massacre in 1989, AALDEF counseled hundreds of Chinese nationals about immigration law and visa extensions.

The 1990s

• Protested against the casting of a white British actor in lead Asian role in Broadway musical, Miss Saigon; works with New York City Human Rights Commission to organize hearings on discriminatory hiring practices of Broadway theater producers.

• Testified before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee on expanding minority language assistance under the Voting Rights Act, affecting 200,000 Asian Americans nationwide.

• Golden Venture freighter ran aground in Far Rockaway, Queens; AALDEF represents Chinese immigrants seeking political asylum.

• Led advocacy effort to secure first fully translated Chinese-language voting machine ballots in New York City under the Voting Rights Act in 1994.

• Launches Asian American Citizenship Project in response to anti-immigrant sentiments; assists thousands of permanent residents to become U.S. citizens.


AALDEF represents individuals and community groups that are most directly affected by racial and economic injustice: immigrants, the working poor and persons not yet proficient in English. From Chinese take-out delivery workers in New York and Nepalese domestic workers in New Jersey, to Vietnamese American youth in Louisiana and Bangladeshi voters in Michigan, AALDEF addresses the legal needs of diverse Asian American groups.

AALDEF has litigated precedent-setting cases and won millions of dollars in back wages and overtime pay for Asian immigrant workers in the restaurant, garment, hotel, construction and domestic service industries. By working in multiracial coalitions, AALDEF has brought Asian American perspectives to policy debates and organized campaigns to stop hate violence, police misconduct and human trafficking. After the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, AALDEF defended the civil liberties of South Asians, Arabs and Muslims who were the targets of racial and ethnic profiling. AALDEF has worked with grassroots groups to promote educational equity and youth rights and to ensure that Asian Americans have a greater voice in the political process. AALDEF has trained hundreds of young lawyers and students through its internship programs, encouraging Asian Americans to use their legal skills to serve the community.

AALDEF has a 20-person staff, including ten attorneys. The organization works with more than 300 volunteers, including pro bono attorneys, community workers, and students. AALDEF receives financial support from foundations, corporations, individual contributions and special fundraising events. AALDEF receives no government funds.

AALDEF has litigated several cases on behalf of low-wage Asian immigrant workers, winning millions of dollars in back wages and overtime pay owed to these workers.*

The Asian American Exit Poll[edit]

There is relatively little data about the voting patterns of Asian Americans. Asian American voters often are overlooked by the mainstream media and by candidates for political office. Mainstream exit polls typically report racial breakdowns for whites, African Americans, Latinos and "others." When the media neglect the Asian American vote, candidates often follow suit. Multilingual exit polls give a fuller and more accurate portrait of Asian American voters than polls conducted in English. AALDEF conducted its first exit poll in 1988 in New York City. In the 2008 elections, AALDEF's Asian American Exit Poll reported on the preferences of almost 17,000 Asian American voters in 11 states and Washington, D.C. In the 2012 elections, AALDEF polled 9,096 Asian American voters in 14 states and Washington, D.C.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund". Asian American Alliance. Archived from the original on 2011-03-31. Retrieved 2011-03-31. "The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund has been set up to help Asian Americans for needs that they may have. The AALDEF is for Asian law needs. They are an Asian American association of individuals who have practiced Asian law or those who wish to practice Asian law. The AALDEF provides free Asian law advice to any of those in need." 

Additional Sources[edit]

  • Anthony Faiola, "30 Immigrants On Bikes Deliver a Labor Revolt," Washington Post, Aug. 25, 2007 at p. A1

External links[edit]