Meet Our Community Members (Immigration Reform)
From Korean Resource Center
Pass Comprehensive Immigration Reform in 2010!
During my senior year in high school, I learned that my visa had expired and I was living here without documentation. It seemed that my hopes for the future were completely shattered. Unlike many other students, I’m unable to get a legal job, obtain a driver’s license, or receive financial aid. I don’t have access to educational opportunities that most other people take for granted.
Worst of all, I’m afraid of being deported. I have nightmares about immigration enforcement agents knocking on my door, arresting my mom, sister, and me. I suffer from depression. However, I have never given up on my hopes of achieving higher education. Today, I have a 3.8 GPA and actively participate in community activities. Despite my immigration status, I work hard, challenge myself, and push beyond my limitations to show that anything is possible in this country. I will continue to push myself to serve as a role model to other people, especially young Korean Americans.
My family and I emigrated from South Korea when I was 10 years old because my father wanted the best education for my two younger sisters and myself. My visa expired at the end of my high school senior year and consequently, I have been burdened with the worries of how I will be able to pay for college. My father works regular and graveyard shifts at a gas station in Los Angeles while my mother works as a child care provider.
Every day is a struggle for my family as we try to pay for all of our household expenses (rent, utilities, and food) as well as the hefty college tuition for my sister and I. Mindful of my family’s monumental sacrifice for me, I conscientiously strive for excellence in my work, both in the classroom and in the workplace. While working twenty hours a week tutoring high school students, I manage to maintain a high GPA as a full time undergraduate. I am also passionate about making an impact in our global community through public service. Despite my financial difficulties and the setbacks attributed to my tentative citizenship, I endeavor to invest my life into fighting for just, compassionate, and humane immigration reform, and into instilling a sense of hope for those who, like me, have had to overcome social and economic adversity.
Five years after leaving my hometown of Upper Marlboro, I returned to my elementary school to speak about being an Olympian. Everyone knew I’d helped the United States speed skating team win a bronze medal in the 5000-meter relay. But there’s another important part of my story I don’t always talk about: I’m a Korean immigrant who grew up in the U.S. without immigration documents.
I was 4 when, clutching my mother’s hand, we crossed into the U.S. from Canada. My father secured my U.S. citizenship and passport when I was 11, but I remember little of the process. When I was a child, my parents ran a small seafood takeout shop, worked 365 days a year, and came home late each night. Even with all their hard work, we barely scraped by.
Growing up, I was the only child I knew who never had a family vacation, even on Christmas, Thanksgiving, Labor Day or New Year’s. On days I helped my parents at the shop I came home exhausted, and I couldn’t believe they worked this hard every day. Then my parents made an even bigger sacrifice for me. I’d started speed skating as a child and showed a particular aptitude for it. Later, to support my skating, my parents depleted the family resources, and we moved to Salt Lake City for my training. Without any job waiting for them, they risked everything so I could skate and dream big. There aren’t a lot of people of color in speed skating. When I came to skating, I came not just as a kid who wanted to compete but also as a Korean American who knew how challenging it could be to live as an immigrant, with all the hard work and insecurity, especially given that we still weren’t citizens.
At times, seeing all the sacrifices and risks, I wanted to give up. I even took a break from skating. But my friends and schoolmates encouraged me to return, and I also got lots of support from older skaters of color, people like Apolo Ohno and Shani Davis, who told me I should cherish the journey. This winter, I was a member of the U.S. Olympic short track speed skating team, and I brought home a medal. I reached my dreams. And driving me on was the sacrifice my parents had made. America’s always been my home. Yet returning from the Olympics I knew I was truly an American and felt accepted. We flew from Vancouver to San Francisco, where we had a layover, and when our team got off the plane, a bunch of passengers gave us an ovation.
It’s been an amazing journey. I was thrilled to be able to return as an Olympian to Stone Mill Elementary School. I spoke with all the children at the school, from kindergartners to fifth-graders, and saw the teachers who had helped build my character. It was great to share my story, which is unique but also typical.
We all have dreams and hopes. As important as skating continues to be for me, it’s not the only area in which I want to succeed and make a difference. I want to help remove some of the challenges immigrant families face because I know that our immigration system doesn’t reflect the best that we can be.
This year, President Barack Obama has an opportunity to reform our immigration laws. I hope my story will inspire him and countless others to go full force and have no regrets. It’s time to bring that medal home.
I was born in Korea but lived there for only three years before my family moved to Brazil and Australia. We settled in California when I was 11 years old. As I child, I had an accident resulting in brain surgery that paralyzed the right side of my body. The limited movement on that side of my body led me to develop scoliosis.
We came here because my parents wanted the best for me: to grow up healthy and free of stigma around my disability. I knew we were applying for permanent residency, but my father’s visa application became complicated. We waited as a struggling family for years before I realized I was undocumented. At college, I realized I was not alone. The Korean Resource Center helped me get in-state tuition and introduced me to many Korean-Americans who remain undocumented, though we want to become full citizens.
I’m studying to be a counselor to help people cope with life problems and overcome physical challenges like I did. Next year I graduate, and I want to be able to work productively here in this country I call home without fear of deportation or loss of health care. My friends and I trekked to Las Vegas for the immigration reform rally on April 10. We were joined by about 10,000 people of multiple ethnicities. Children, youth, adults, and elders alike — our voices were one, calling for immigration reform. We won’t stop until we achieve it.
For me, immigration reform is a matter of life and death. Recently, I’ve been having difficulty breathing; it’s affecting my lungs and every part of my daily life. I need back surgery and physical therapy but cannot begin to imagine the costs, without a job and health insurance. How much will my health deteriorate? I am tired of waiting for immigration reform. But I am not too tired to help write a new chapter of immigration history. Next year, when we celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, I hope we can also celebrate a new and more humane immigration policy.
 Hyun Jae Cheon
Though I did not have a proper documentation, I think I am one of the luckiest people. I have wonderful parents, who worked so hard days and nights, trying to support me and my brother so that we can get a great education here. As a result, I got into one of the most prestigious colleges in the United States. But before I could celebrate with joys and cheers upon graduation from high school, I became scared of the financial barrier of continuing post secondary education without financial aid and having an uncertain future even upon graduation.
Now the only glimpse of hope left for me is humane and just immigration reform which will allow me to continue my studies and fulfill my long-time dream as an American. This is my dream, hope and future. And more my own dream, it is the dream of thousands of fellow immigrants who work hard to become American citizens in the Land of Opportunity.