Why Voting for Immigration Reform Is Critical for Korean Americans

When he was 7 years old, Jin Park emigrated with his family from South Korea to the United States under the sponsorship of his mother’s employer. The family settled in Queens, New York, home to a growing Korean immigrant community. As a teenager, Park learned that he was undocumented; unbeknownst to the family, his mother’s original employer was not qualified to sponsor immigrants. He applied for and received protection under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and attended Harvard University, graduating in 2018.

Park’s story brings attention to the fact that Asians are the fastest-growing segment of the US undocumented population, and we must take this into account in the struggle toward comprehensive immigration reform. With midterm elections approaching, immigration should be a central issue for Koreans and Asian Americans, not simply based on exceptional cases like Park, but because legal immigrant status enables people to engage as free and equal participants in their communities.

As of July 2018, South Koreans represented the sixth-largest group of active beneficiaries of DACA and the largest Asian group, totaling 7,170. While significant, this is just over 1 percent of total recipients. The fate of DACA is often at the center of debates regarding unauthorized immigration, but the program and its recipients are just part of the larger picture, and Koreans provide an illuminating case study.

According to the Migration Policy Institute, there were about 192,000 undocumented Koreans in the US in 2013, which by one estimate, could be as much as 20 percent of the Korean American population. Multiple news outlets and research centers have shown that the Asian undocumented population is growing faster than the Latin American undocumented population, which in recent years has actually shrunk.

The typical story of undocumented Korean…

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