Immigration stories are a cornerstone
of America's historical narrative. From grade school we learn
of the Pilgrims' trans-Atlantic journey to flee religious persecution
and of "a mighty woman with a torch" who greeted European immigrants
by the millions to Ellis Island. In these stories, tolerance and
generosity are singularly American virtues that confer our country's
Unfortunately, incomplete immigration
stories linger in the present day, obstructed by opposition from a loud
and persistent few. As a result, 11.8 million undocumented immigrants
live in America's shadows - they struggle to finance their educations
as students, are exploited as workers, and are encumbered by an ever-present
fear of deportation as families.
In a recent
Huffington Post entry,
Will Perez wrote that immigration reform "is of particular concern
to Latinos, since 75% of undocumented immigrants are from Latin America."
However, the problems engendered by our immigration system affect a
vastly diverse immigrant population. It is estimated that 10 percent
of Asian American Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) are undocumented, and among
the AAPI groups, Korean Americans are affected at the greatest rate,
at 20 percent.
The history of Korean immigration to
the U.S. is one variation on the American immigration narrative. Immigration
began in the late 19th century, as Koreans came to work as laborers
in Hawaii, but the bulk of it occurred after 1965 following the repeal
of the Asian Exclusion Act. Legions of Koreans came to America
in search of freedom from an oppressive political regime and opportunity
for economic mobility. Nearly a quarter million Korean
Americans are undocumented as the result of this promise of a better life coming into
conflict with the realities of the immigration system.
Undocumented Korean American college
students have been especially vocal in the fight for immigration reform.
The stories of the measures taken by these students and their families
to support a college education give the push to pass reform a special sense of urgency. Their hardship extends well beyond
their ineligibility for financial aid. A huge question mark looms
over their post-graduation plans - without a Social Security number,
how are they to find employment? On February 1, one Korean American
student reiterated these frustrations and spoke of his aspirations to
become a professor before hundreds who had gathered at a Los Angeles
church for an immigration
town hall. And Ju
Hong, an undocumented student from the Bay Area, has come out publicly
about his status and blogs regularly on immigration issues.
As the immigration reform movement
escalates in size and intensity, undocumented Korean American students
will continue to make their voices heard. On March 21, over 100,000
people from every corner of America will come together in Washington
D.C. to show their support for immigration reform in a "March For America," and Korean Americans from California to
New Jersey will be among them.
Eric is an undocumented Korean American
student at an Ivy League university. He has taken the school year
off in order to work and save money to pay for college; he waits tables
at a Japanese restaurant 7 days a week, 12 hours a day on weekdays,
and 13 hours a day on weekends. Despite his busy schedule, Eric
will be coming to Washington on March 21 to march for immigration reform
because, as he tells it, reform is not only his dream, but is "the
dream of thousands of fellow immigrants who work hard to become American
citizens in the land of opportunity."
Immigration reform cannot wait, and
the Korean American community will be present in Washington standing
alongside other immigrant groups to encourage our legislators to take
the action that America needs.