Monday, May 27, 2013

Obama meets Korean "dreamers"

The Huffington Post has an article that highlights the story of two Korea-born "Dreamers" (i.e., undocumented residents — some would say "illegal aliens" — who would benefit from passage of the so-called Dream Act but who in the meantime are getting a break from President Obama's decision to hold off on deporting young people who came to the US with their families when they were children).

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's story:
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."
Kevin Lee's story:
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.

"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."
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.

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.



  1. The Koreans profiled in the story are not "undocumented." They probably have Korean passports and likely entered with B-2 visitors' visas affixed in their passports. They are not "illegal aliens" if they presented valid passports at a port of entry. Explanations about legal status provided by parents to their kids often do not quite match up with US immigration laws. If both grandparents were US citizens, but the father was not, that implies that the grandparents obtained citizenship after immigrating, probably through a petition from an adult naturalized citizen child. US immigration laws allow qualified substitute petitioners if the original petitioner dies. However, unlike spouses, parents, and children under 21, siblings cannot adjust from overstayed visas, which is why the family remains out of status. I understand why the family chose to come early with tourist visas and wait to adjust status in the US, but because of overstayers like them, Koreans used to stand in long lines outside the US Embassy to present reams of documents to consular staff to prove they had no immigration intent. Personally, I would like to see those who overstay as adults barred from adjusting status in the US just like those who enter without inspection. This would reduce the number overstayers and therefore make it easier for legitimate visitors and students to be approved for non-immigrant visas.


  2. I realized after I posted that even if the grandmother had lived, the family still would have been denied green cards when their priority date became current because married children and children over 21 cannot adjust from overstayed visas. Some families do not realize this until after they arrive with tourist visas and have overstayed for awhile. Remember that the grandparents were most likely immigrants and naturalized citizens themselves who followed an adult immigrant child. Owing to the large numbers of prospective immigrants, it simply isn't feasible to give out immigrant visas on demand to all qualifying family members, whose spouses in turn start their own green card chain. Eliminating siblings and married children in the immigration reform bill is a practical means of reducing wait time although I hope provisions will be made for lone family members left behind. Australia allows married children and sibling immigration if all other immediate family members are already in the country.


  3. Thanks for your comments, Sonagi, although I don't have time to reply to them now.

    I did want to add a warning of sorts for anyone commenting as "Anonymous." I allowed this when Wangkon made the case that commenting Google, Wordpress, TypePad, OpenID, etc., was either not working or tedious, but the end result is that I have a flood of cleverly contrived spam messages that end up in the same moderation pile.

    Sometimes dozens a day, in fact, but it's not possible to fish out which are legitimate and which are not without reading to the bottom of some of them, so I have to wait until I'm home and can do it on my desktop, in most cases. If people comment with their own ID, I can approve (or, very rarely, reject or defer) based on that ID from my phone.

    Since Wangkon and others who have complained of the earlier problem have not jumped in with a significantly greater amount of commenting, I may revert back to the old system.

  4. "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."

    Limited because... YOU'RE BREAKING THE LAW!!! The same way most other criminals are "limited."

    She wants to stop feeling limited or helpless? Stop breaking the law.

  5. they're animals, no more, no less. always breaking the law...


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