They are Kevin Lee and Angie Kim, who both had a chance to meet President Obama at a White House event highlighting the plight of these "real lives" caught up in the immigration debate in Washington. The group included a number of people originally from Latin America, but these are not the sole members of the undocumented.
Angie Kim received deferred action in April after coming to the U.S. from South Korea when she was 9 so her family could be closer to her U.S.-citizen grandparents. She's 29 years old now, and has been living in the country undocumented for two decades. Her family's effort to get legal residency was halted when her grandmother died; she had been sponsoring for her son, Angie's father, to get a green card and the process went away when she was no longer there to do so.
Their legal status has been a considerable strain on Kim's family, and she knows her parents struggle with feeling powerless and somewhat guilty to have put their family in such a situation.
It's been hard for her, too. The current college student said hasn't been able to get work she knows she could do well, because she is undocumented and until April wasn't certified to work legally.
"You're so limited in so many ways, almost every way," she said. "You can't get a proper job, regardless of your talent and your experience and your skills because of that one piece of paper. It stops you, it holds you back from doing anything else. You feel very helpless at the same time; it's really not in your control."
When she talked to Obama and Biden, she asked them to remember that the debate isn't about numbers, it's about people.
"I mentioned one thing to [Obama] and I said I wanted him to remember that this is not about policy. People are not policy," she said. "You're dealing with human lives, and you can't narrow down and define people by laws or policies or regulations. It doesn't do justice, I don't think."
About a year ago, Kevin Hyun Kyu Lee, a 23-year-old undocumented immigrant, was on his way to his graduation from UCLA when his mother called with good news. The Obama administration had just announced that Dreamers -- young people who came to the U.S. as children -- would be able to apply for deferred action from deportation. He barely believed it, but turned on the TV when he got to his friend's house to prepare for the ceremony and saw Obama announcing the new policy on television. His friend was also undocumented, and one of the few people Lee had told about his status.I know a lot of people think that it sends the wrong message to "legalize" those who are in the country illegally, and still others are worried about the cost, but I agree with those who say that these young people were brought to the US through no choice and it is has long bee their home, so legitimizing their presence is the right thing to do.
"We started jumping up and down, because he was saying that not only would we not get deported, but we would be able to get temporary relief," he said. "That was an amazingly memorable moment."
On Tuesday, Lee's birthday, he got to thank the president in person. Lee came to the U.S. from South Korea with his parents when he was 9 years old. He knew he was undocumented, but didn't talk about it much until a year ago, when he finally "came out" as undocumented. He's now an advocate for immigration reform and a community organizer for the Korean Resource Center in Los Angeles -- he can legally work now that he has deferred action -- and encourages others to be open about their status as well so they can fight to stay.
"It sounds easy to come out and tell your story, but what it really takes from them is coming out of the shadows," he said. "It takes a lot of courage. I would just like to thank all of those people before me who were able to share their stories, because those people were my inspiration. I hope in the future maybe some other shy or timid Dreamer who is in the shadows would hear my story or somebody else's story and come out and share and be more active."
Moreover, sending them "back home" to a place with which they're unfamiliar is like throwing out all the money and resources expended for their education, at a time when the US needs educated, functioning adults. This is true for all Dreamers, since the act provides major incentives to stay in school and keep one's nose clean.