Tag Archives: immigration


Commentary: Renewing the Promise of America For All Families

Above photo: Paul Song’s maternal grandfather, Sang Don Kim, 1961.  (Courtesy of Paul Song)

Today’s fight for immigration reform belongs to all families, whether we trace our immigration history back 10 years or 100 years ago.


As a Korean American boy growing up in New Jersey in the 1970s, I was exposed to a tremendous amount of racism. I endured painful racial taunts and name-calling and got into more than my share of fights. Although I was born in Queens, N.Y., many kids and their parents at my elementary school considered me as an outsider, someone who didn’t belong here.

The attitudes seemed to fly in the face of President Lyndon Johnson’s words: “Our beautiful America was built by a nation of strangers. From a hundred different places or more, they have poured forth, joining and blending into one might and irresistible tide. The land flourished because it was fed from so many different sources.”

Out of my personal struggles emerged an identity and set of beliefs that were no doubt shaped by my difficult early days—and even further back to my immigrant parents’ journey to these shores. Today, as the executive chairman of the Courage Campaign, a progressive online organization of over 900,000 active members, I am committed to fighting for the least among us and for equal rights for all. And that’s why, when I hear arguments these days about protecting our borders or expelling “illegal aliens” from our country, I cannot help but take them personally.


Left to right: Paul Song’s father Won Ryul Song, wife Lisa Ling, mother Grace Eun Hyung Kim and sister Ann Song,

on Paul and Lisa’s wedding day in 2007.

Like many Korean families, my story begins 60 years ago, during the war that split the peninsula in half. In 1951, my mom came to the United States via freightliner from Busan. She was a Korean War refugee from Seoul whose family had been displaced when the communists overtook their city. By the grace of God and the Herculean efforts of my mom’s older sister, who was already studying in the U.S., my mom was fortunate enough to receive a scholarship to study in New York.

The tremendous draw to the United States and what it stood for was not new. Prior to the war, my aunt had always dreamed of coming to the U.S. to study, but my grandfather would only allow her to go if she learned to speak perfect English. Determined, she studied every day before school with a prominent American Presbyterian missionary, Lillias Underwood. Tragically, Mrs. Underwood was assassinated by communists in 1949. In her honor, a memorial scholarship was established for one Korean student to study in the U.S., and my aunt was the very first recipient. She was studying at Hood College in Maryland when the Korean War broke out and was asked to speak to various American churches, which wanted to know more about her homeland. It was during one of these presentations that a group offered to help my mom with a full scholarship.

Mom would eventually go on to receive a master’s degree from Columbia Teacher’s College in early childhood education, with a focus on Head Start, a federal program that provides early childhood education for low-income families. She figured that if she ever did return to Korea, that there would be tremendous poverty and a real need for a similar program.

She spent her early professional years at the Mt. Cavalry Child Care Center in New York’s Harlem, under the guidance of an amazing woman whose own American story helped define an entire generation, Shirley Chisholm. Chisholm, who would later become the first African American woman elected to Congress, mentored my mom, and later sponsored her as she sought to earn a green card. Chisholm later endorsed my mom to become the education director for the entire Newark, N.J., Head Start program.

In 1958, my mom met my father, a native of Pyongyang, whose family lost everything when they fled to the South before the start of the Korean War. He served in the South Korean Navy during the war and, after graduating from Yonsei University, would come to the U.S. to complete his Ph.D. in chemistry. They would marry in 1959.

Their original intent was to go back and help rebuild their homeland; however, just as they were beginning to build a life together in the U.S., the struggles of the past were never too far away.

In 1960, my late maternal grandfather, Sang Don Kim, would become the first democratically elected mayor of Seoul. Unfortunately, he was swept up in the military coup of 1961 led by Park Chung-hee and thrown in jail. Despite numerous attempts by the military, he was found not guilty and released five months later, but placed under house arrest and barred from future politics. He would eventually be exiled to the U.S. and never allowed to return. My family did not set foot again in Korea until 1992, when democracy was fully restored.

Through all of this, my parents, and eventually my younger sister and I, called the United States home. They were forever grateful to their adopted country, and they strived to build a life worthy of pride and to give something back. Such is a sentiment shared by so many immigrants who came before them.

But the immigrant story is not one just of the past, reserved only for the history books. It is a continuing story that is still very much part of the fabric and character of America. And, during this hyper-partisan time of divisive rhetoric, when the so-called costs of immigration are often highlighted, it is important to point out the indisputable facts about how immigrants strengthen this nation. In 2011, immigrants started 28 percent of all new businesses while accounting for only 13 percent of the population.

Economically, immigrants represent more than $1 trillion in annual consumer spending and could add as much as 1.3 percent to the GDP by 2016. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that immigration reform would reduce the deficit by $135 billion over the next 10 years.

But, even if there was no economic benefit to immigration reform, the moral argument is simply too strong to ignore. Leviticus 19:33-34 says, “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt.” Yet, millions of families today remain separated by thousands of miles, and often oceans, between them. Many of our undocumented workers, especially women, are abused, have their rights and dignity violated on a daily basis, and some are even trafficked because they have little recourse against their employers. Young people, who came here as children, live in the shadows through no fault of their own.

Many of us Korean Americans can trace our family’s history of immigrant struggle to a few decades earlier, and since then we’ve managed to make this great nation our home. But even as we work to build successful lives for ourselves, and for our loved ones, let us not forget our fellow Korean and non-Korean brothers and sisters who continue to live in the shadows and are still fighting to realize their American Dream. Like our parents once did, they too are only asking for a chance to build a better life, so that they can one day give back.

Michelle Obama recently said, “As citizens, we do not shut the doors of opportunity behind us. We preserve the promise of America. We renew it. We extend it, so that future generations of Americans—Americans by birth and ‘Americans-by-choice’—can do their part to form the more perfect union that our founders imagined so many years ago.”

I believe that our strength as a country is a direct result of the diversity within our borders. That’s why, whether our families came here recently or 100 years ago, immigration reform should be our fight, too. I respectfully urge everyone to learn more about how to can get involved and show your support in the fight for real immigration reform by visiting fwd.us.

Paul Y. Song is an oncologist, health care activist and biotech executive based in Los Angeles. To learn more about the Courage Campaign he leads, visit www.couragecampaign.org.

Correction: A previous version of this article erroneously wrote the organization FWD.us’s website address as fwd.us.com. The correct address is fwd.us. KoreAm regrets the error. 

This article was published in the July 2014 issue of KoreAm. Subscribe today! To purchase a single issue copy of the June issue, click the “Buy Now” button below. (U.S. customers only. Expect delivery in 5-7 business days).


An anti-deportation protester in the audience shouts against Obama during event on immigration reform in San Francsico

DACA Program for Undocumented Youth Renewed


(Above photo: Ju Hong, a DACA recipient and immigration reform activist, famously interrupts President Obama’s speech last November. Photo via PRI.)

The U.S. Homeland Security recently announced the renewal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which was set to expire in September.

The program allows undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children to legally reside and work for two years. More than 560,000 individuals have received DACA as of April 2014, and according to data released by USCIS, 7,504 of the applicants are from South Korea.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced it would begin accepting renewal requests immediately as well as requests from new eligible applicants. The agency urged renewal applicants to file their requests before their current program expires to avoid a lapse in the period of deferral and employment authorization.

“Despite the acrimony and partisanship that now exists in Washington, almost all of us agree that a child who crossed our border illegally with a parent, or in search of a parent or a better life, was not making an adult choice to break our laws, and should be treated differently than adult law-breakers,” Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson said in a statement. “By the renewal of DACA, we act in accord with our values and the code of this great Nation. But, the larger task of comprehensive immigration reform still lies ahead.”

Members of the Congressional Asian Pacific Caucus (CAPAC) applauded the news. “This important program has allowed over half a million undocumented youth to come out of the shadows and continue contributing to our society,” Congresswoman Judy Chu, also CAPAC’s chair, said in a statement.

Chu echoed Johnson’s call for a more permanent fix for undocumented youth: comprehensive immigration reform, which would allow them a path to citizenship. She also noted that she was concerned about the low number of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders who have applied for DACA. “Although approximately 8 percent of undocumented youth who are eligible for DACA are from Asia, only 2.6 percent of DACA applicants are AAPI,” her statement said. “That is why I encourage the USCIS to increase engagement efforts with our community, and ensure undocumented AAPI youth receive the relief they need.”

For more information about the renewal process and eligibility requirements, visit here. Information about national and local DACA information sessions are available here.

Below are the details for DACA applicants, according to Social Justice Solutions:

Applicants for renewal can begin by filing the new version of Form I-821D “Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals,” Form I-765 “Application for Employment Authorization,” and the I-765 Worksheet. There is a filing and biometrics (fingerprints and photo) fee associated with Form I-765 totaling $465. As with an initial request, USCIS will conduct a background check when processing DACA renewals.

USCIS will also host both national and local DACA informational sessions. USCIS will provide further information on these sessions during which USCIS officials will provide additional information on the DACA process and be available to answer your questions. For information on local DACA engagements, please visit www.uscis.gov/outreach.

To learn more about the renewal process or requesting initial consideration of DACA, visit www.uscis.gov/childhoodarrivals or call the USCIS National Customer Service Center at 1-800-375-5283.


Asian Americans Shifted Most Strongly Toward Democrats Since 2000


Above photo: President Obama meets with Dae Joong Yoon, executive director of the National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC) in May 2013 to discuss immigration reform.

Asian Americans have shifted most strongly toward the Democratic Party out of all racial or ethnic groups since 2000, according to a new report from Gallup released last Friday. Part of the reason may come from many Asian Americans affinity to President Obama, a fellow minority, but Gallup also attributes the shift to Asian Americans’ opposition to core tenets of the Republican Party.

The numbers from the past two presidential elections are a clear indicator of the shift. In 2008, 62 percent of Asian American voters backed Obama, and in 2012, 73 percent backed him for reelection, according to Edison Research exit poll data.

The two major issues the report identified as reasons for this political leaning: religion and immigration. A majority of Asians in the United States are non-Christian or not particularly religious, while the GOP has a core constituency of evangelical Christians.

The Republican Party’s resistance to changing immigration laws also may not sit well with the fastest growing immigrant group. Asians make up only 5 percent of the country’s population, but they recently surpassed Hispanics as the largest group of new immigrants to the U.S.

Despite the growing numbers, polls that allow for deeper analysis of Asian American views are hard to come by because of the still relatively small population and language barriers. Gallup’s report included about 4,000 Asian Americans, and it did not conduct surveys in Asian languages—a fact that the research group acknowledged as a drawback to its data. Other research centers that do conduct surveys in Asian languages, however, have produced very similar results. A 2012 Pew Research Center report, which conducted its survey in seven Asian languages, found that 50 percent of Asian Americans identified with the Democratic Party, compared with 28 percent who identified with the Republican Party.

Photo via National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC)


Ethnic Korean Foreigners at Record Level in South Korea

A Korean Chinese family living in Yanbian, China.

South Korea now has more ethnic Koreans with foreign passports residing in its country than ever before, according to statistics released by the Ministry of Justice.

The data reveals that the number of ethnic Koreans with non-Korean citizenship increased by 24 percent in 2013 as more than 233,000 such people have now found a home on the Korean peninsula. Among the 1.57 million foreigners residing legally in South Korea, 15 percent of them are of Korean descent, according to the Ministry of Justice.


The hike in numbers was driven largely by a steady influx of Korean Chinese immigrants due to the amendment of immigration laws in 2008, which gave Korean Chinese more benefits and rights.

Just four years ago, Korean Americans residing in Korea outnumbered other ethnic Koreans at approximately 31,700 compared to only about 4,800 Korean Chinese. But the Korean Chinese community is now by far larger than the other ethnic Korean segment, with a population of over 150,000.

In fact, a staggering two-thirds of ethnic Koreans residing in South Korea are Korean Chinese. Korean Americans now only make up 19 percent of the ethnic Korean population followed by Koreans from Canada, Australia, Uzbekistan and Russia.

More ethnic Korean immigrants have been relocating to their motherland at a significantly higher rate in recent years as there were only about 50,000 in the country only in 2009. The number rose to 83,825 in 2010, 135,020 in 2011 and 187,616 in 2012 before eclipsing the 200,000-mark for the first time ever.