As Supreme Court decision looms, undocumented Asians say they must speak up or risk losing DACA

Anh Do, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Political News

"This results in shame and stigma associated with being undocumented, lack of support within their own communities, and threats of deportation or worker exploitation when people from their own communities find out they are undocumented," Sudhinaraset said.

In the Vietnamese community, for example, older immigrants tend to be Republican and conservative and often harbor hard-right opinions on illegal immigration. This can lead to arguments with younger Vietnamese Americans, who are often more liberal. Because illegal immigration is such a hot-button issue that often provokes harsh rhetoric -- including from the White House -- many Asian immigrants are glad for the relatively small spotlight that the issue has in their communities, experts say.

During oral arguments last month, the Supreme Court's conservative justices sounded skeptical about the Obama-era policy that has allowed 700,000 young immigrants to live and work in the U.S, suggesting the court may clear the way for President Donald Trump to end the program. The court is likely to make a decision by spring.

"We basically had a piece of legislation that gave us a purpose -- gave us energy," said Santos, who works at Immigrants Rising, a San Francisco nonprofit that helps undocumented young people achieve their career and educational goals. DACA "helped define us and started getting some of us involved in fighting for our rights. But honestly, there's still not enough involvement."

Emily Park, a medical student at UCLA, never knew the secret surrounding her immigration status until she applied for college. A native of South Korea, she traveled as a 9-year-old with her mother and two siblings from Seoul to America in 2001 "on a trip that would change our lives."

They carried tourist visas. Later, her mother applied to stay longer but during the process, a member from their legal team forgot to submit a key document "that led us to losing our status, though that was hidden from us kids," Park, 28, recalled. "I always knew something wasn't quite right, seeing how my single mom faced a lot of problems supporting us."


The family lived in Orange and San Diego counties, with her mother bouncing between domestic jobs and moving from apartment to apartment. Park learned to keep her belongings simple and tidy -- just in case the family had to move again. She eventually enrolled at UC Berkeley, studying nutritional science, physiology and metabolism and did a stint as a community health worker at Asian Health Services in San Francisco's Chinatown. A Dreamer, Park sees DACA as a "Band-Aid solution," but a necessary one.

"People have created new lives in this new country and try our best to contribute to society," she said. "I can't explain why more Asians aren't visible when they should be visible talking about this issue. It takes a lot of bravery and sacrifices, but we have to do it."

Hong-Mei Pang, director of advocacy for Chinese Affirmative Action in San Francisco, said the unclear future of DACA makes it high time for people to work closely, regardless of their backgrounds and countries of origin.

"For a long time, immigrants (were) pitted against each other in the debate about immigration reforms," she said. "In this very moment when there are so many threats from the Trump administration, it really is time for us to band together with other communities of color to say that home is here."


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