Continuing the Fight for Immigration Reform: March For America

by Latoya Peterson

On Sunday, March 21, hundreds of thousands of people are expected to take part in a march for Immigration Reform.

The organizers over at NAKASEC (National Korean American Service and Education Consortium) penned a few pieces in honor of the march as a call to action.

Korean Americans March for America
By Minsuk Kim, Korean Resource Center Youth Organizer

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 greatness.

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 article, 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 15 percent.

The history of Korean immigration to the U.S. is one variation on American immigration tales. 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 undocumented Korean Americans is 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 inflect the push to pass reform with 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.

Immigration Reform: Where are all the AAPIs at?
By Nicole Montojo

TNT, or “tago ng tago.” That’s what many Filipino Americans call their undocumented Pinoy brothers and sisters. Loosely translated, it means always hiding, or always on the run. As a young Filipina growing up in a white American suburb, I heard my parents and relatives use this term, always tainted with a nervous laugh and hush-hush tone that suggested this was something taboo. Never understanding the gravity of what it means to be undocumented, all I knew was that TNT was something we definitely were not.

Those of us in the AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) community who are always on the run, watching our backs out of fear of immigration authorities, have hid ourselves all too well—not just from ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), but from our own communities. An arbitrary line divides AAPIs— the documented on one side and the “TNTs” on the other—a line made of nothing but a sheet of paper granting legal permanent residency. The material realities created by this line are stark; the documented are granted a multitude of basic rights: access to financial aid for education, healthcare, and fair-wage jobs to name a few. On the other hand, the undocumented remain permanently disenfranchised; they have a different set of “rights” delineated by our broken immigration system—they can be exploited in the workplace, forced into constant fear of deportation, and have their family torn apart without a second glance from the government.

This is true of the entire immigrant population as a whole, but Asian immigrants are rarely who come to mind when most Americans think of immigration. As the current state of the immigration reform debate is shaped by the minority myth and mainstream media’s racialization of it as a “Latino issue,” AAPIs have got to be that much more persistent to make sure that our communities’ voices and needs are heard. The fact is that as AAPIs, we are all hidden if we do not stand up for immigration reform together; our silence on the issue only serves to reinforce the silence forced upon our undocumented community members.

AAPIs sponsor 39 percent of all family-based immigrants, and nearly half of the family members trapped by visa backlogs are relatives of AAPI immigrants. There is no separation between the documented and undocumented when our family, friends and community members must struggle silently. The line between us is a fiction, wholly unrelated to what our immigration stories are really about—a search for a better life for one’s family, refuge from any sort of persecution or war, and an unrelenting sense of possibility.

The reality lies in the stories of immigrants like Ju. Ju is a Korean American undocumented college student whose visa expired while he was in high school. “While my friends talked about colleges, I worried about whether or not I could even go to college. Despite all my hard work in high school, I didn’t have access to educational opportunities that most people take for granted.” He’s unable to work legally, obtain a driver’s license, receive financial aid for college, or live without fear of deportation. Nevertheless, Ju has not given up. “Today and every day, I fight for my rights,” he says.

As an AAPI community, we must recognize stories like Ju’s to see the reality beyond the fiction—the reality that his fight is our fight. We must stand up for the rights of all immigrants and new American families.


Immigration Matters: A March to Rebuild the American Dream

by HyunJoo Lee, National Organizing Coordinator, NAKASEC

Friends, colleagues, community members, even my parents, are asking me when immigration reform will happen. People are waiting for change and are starting to wonder if it will ever happen. There is no guarantee of how or when immigration reform will happen, but one thing is certain – the American dream is alive and well in the students, working parents, and families that have come to this country in search for a better life and who will not give up until we fix our current broken immigration system. On March 21st, this hope in the American dream will be displayed when 100,000 students, parents, workers, advocated, and allies come together for March for America, an event that will send a powerful message to President Obama and Congress that change takes courage and the time for change is now.

For many, the American dream is first dreamt abroad, cultivated in countries like South Korea, El Salvador, Morocco, and Vietnam, and where hard-working people desire the chance to properly care for their family, have their children become the first person in their family to go to college, and ensure a better future. Since living in El Salvador for two years to now, where I work and advocate for immigrants of diverse backgrounds for issues like immigration reform, I have realized that the American dream is not a dream at all. A dream is borderless, equal, and available to all. Yet in today’s anti-immigrant atmosphere, when America immigrants are called criminals and told that our economic contributions and dreams are invalid, dreams have become an illusion.

I am very fortunate. I am a product of an American dream. My parents brought my brother and I to Los Angeles in 1988, leaving behind their college degrees and jobs to work as a truck driver and cashier at a women’s clothing store to a country where they did not know the language and culture. They brought us here because they wanted to us to dream as big as possible and they believed that America was an equal-opportunity, merit-based country so if we worked hard enough we would be successful. I am forever indebted to their sacrifice and faith in me and do believe that who I am today would not have been possible in any other country. But when I look at my parents and the fact that at age 60 they are working low-wage jobs and still do not have health insurance, I wonder if this country cannot do better, for them as well as the millions of working families living in the U.S.

It is this deep belief that America can do better for all of its residents, and that we must revive the American dream, that keeps me committed to immigration reform and the DREAM Act, federal legislation that would give eligible undocumented students a pathway to legalization. The current situation cannot continue – immigrants who came in search of the American dream are being forced into the shadows as second-class citizens without the right of due process, vulnerable to raids and separation from their families, and whose economic contributions are denied by racism and intolerance. This includes AAPIs (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders) who make up 10 percent of the undocumented population and Korean Americans of whom 15 percent are undocumented. Undocumented students who are graduating top of their class and want to become lawyers and doctors cannot receive financial aid or must work low wage cash jobs to pay for their classes.

America can and must do better. That is why the immigrant rights community and allies will come together in Washington, D.C. on March 21st to demand real change that will uplift the lives of all Americans. The event has already successfully built the pressure, with President Obama meeting with immigrant rights leaders, the Hispanic Caucus, and Senators Schumer and Graham last week to discuss immigration reform. Recent media coverage of the issue and the March 21st rally include a New York Times editorial, Washington Post, and the White House press statement issued on March 11.

We are ready and commit to working together to rebuild the economy and be true to the values that make America so great. Stand with us on March 21st and let us make comprehensive immigration reform a reality in 2010. For more information, please visit www.reformimmigrationforamerica.org.