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July 7, 1999


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Why Indian Americans should Support Bill Lann Lee

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Debasish Mishra

Bill Lann Lee Many Indian Americans nationwide are lending their support to Bill Lann Lee, a Chinese American, who is currently serving as the Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, the top civil rights enforcement position in the country. Across the country, many Americans are demanding that the word, 'Acting', be removed from Lee's title so that he may fully and vigorously fight for civil rights protections. If his current nomination is confirmed by the US Senate, Lee will become the highest ranking Asian American in the Clinton Administration.

This has led some in the Indian American community to ask, 'Why should I give my support to a Chinese American? What has he done for us as Indian Americans?'

The answer is simple: we should support Lee's nomination because his record in enforcing our nation's civil rights laws demonstrate that he is a man of enormous integrity and conviction who is committed to making this a better country for all Americans. The Civil Rights Division at the DOJ enforces laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, gender, disability, religion and other protected categories, in the workplace and in schools.

Bill Lann Lee has done much to improve the lives of Americans by eradicating discrimination. One need only look at his record to understand why the Indian American community should step up and firmly support him.

Bill Lann Lee is uniquely qualified to serve as the nation's top civil rights enforcer. Throughout his 25-year legal career, Lee has worked diligently against discrimination in all forms, including in employment, housing, voting, and education. Moreover, he has extensive experience in many areas of civil rights law, including employment discrimination, access to health care, prevention of lead poisoning in children, access to public transportation, and equal access to education.

In his acting capacity at the Department of Justice, he has worked to make society accessible to Americans with disabilities, fight housing discrimination, and combat modern day slavery.

Under his leadership, the Civil Rights Division secured guilty pleas of three defendants who, as members of skinhead gangs, were involved in the beating and stabbing of two African-Americans in southern California. Similarly, the division obtained guilty pleas from six defendants for physically assaulting Hispanic residents in Nampa, Idaho. Given his strong record on prosecuting hate crimes, we can be sure that justice will be sought if Indian Americans were victimized in similar crimes.

Bill Lann Lee understands our perspective as Indian Americans. It is important for Indian Americans to support Bill Lee because he is a role model for all minorities who hope to succeed in America.

Like many of us, Bill Lann Lee comes from immigrant roots. The son of Chinese immigrants, Lee grew up in New York City and won a scholarship to attend Yale University. Through hard work and perseverance, Lee graduated Phi Beta Kappa, magna cum laude, and went on to Columbia University for law school.

His humble background is evidenced by the fact that when he attended Yale, up to his graduation, he wore the shirts that customers had forgotten and left at his parents' laundromat.

Bill Lann Lee has devoted his life to protecting the civil rights of all Americans. Instead of taking a lucrative position in corporate America, Lee chose instead to pursue his legal career protecting equal opportunity for all Americans to achieve the American dream.

He has spent the last 25 years working as a civil rights attorney for a variety of prestigious organizations. Prior to his position at the DOJ, he served as Western Regional Counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, the civil rights law firm founded by the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. He has also worked for the Center for Law in the Public Interest, served as an adjunct professor at Fordham University, and as counsel for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

We should look to how African Americans and Hispanics have pushed nominations through by demonstrating solidarity. Even in the case of Lee, Americans of all backgrounds are coming together to demand that his nomination be brought to the Senate floor for a vote by the end of this congressional session.

The tremendous diversity of the Asian American community, however, has been used to keep us divided and prevent any candidates from gaining a seat at the table. Asian Americans are conspicuously absent from the President's cabinet, which he promised would "look like America."

If we are to gain political legitimacy in this country, we must band together with other Asian Americans to demonstrate our solidarity and resolve to be a part of the American landscape.

How You Can Help: Now is a critical time for your support. Asian American groups from across the country, under the umbrella of the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans, have collaborated on a plan to push for Lee's confirmation in the coming weeks. Your support is critical for this strategy to work.

Letters to Senators: You can demonstrate support by writing letters and make phone calls to Senators, asking them to (a) support Bill Lann Lee and (b) pressure the Senate leadership to schedule a vote by the full Senate on his nomination. Sample letters can be found at

Petitions to Senators: If your organization is sponsoring an event in the near future, a petition is another method to build support for Bill Lann Lee. Have everyone sign the petition when they register. A sample petition is available at

Grassroots Meetings (Through July 9): While the Senate is in recess during the week of July 5, groups should schedule meetings with their Senators while they are home in their state. Where possible, you should work in coalition with other communities to demonstrate broad support for Lee's candidacy.

Media: To generate momentum for the editorial pieces in the mainstream media, you should write letters to the editor of your local paper. In addition, all groups are encouraged to schedule meetings with the editorial boards of their local papers to encourage them to write an editorial in support of Bill Lann Lee. For talking points and how to set up an editorial meeting, see

Bill Lann Lee Day: A national day of action to support Bill Lann Lee is scheduled for Wednesday, July 21, 1999. You are encouraged to work in coalition to organize rallies and press events in support of Bill Lann Lee. Rallies are being organized across the country. To find more information, contact IACPA at (202) 289-3654. Please participate!

Debasish Mishra is the executive director of the India Abroad Center for Political Awareness (IACPA), a professionally-staffed non-profit, non-partisan organization based in Washington, DC advancing the interests of Indian Americans. For more information, contact IACPA at (202) 289-3654 or

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