One day in February 2004, I came to the U.S with my family and I was full of hope for a better future. I felt nervous in my new journey, but still confident that everything would be fine. I had visited the U.S a year earlier to prepare my immigration papers and met with several experts to plan ahead. They told me that everything would be fine and on schedule as long as I paid the immigration fees. I was naïve enough to believe the advice and in part I did that because I thought that the U.S. as the most powerful nation in the world would have a well functioning and reliable immigration system. Therefore, I thought that I just needed to wait until my application was approved; in my mind, it was just a matter of time.
For the time being, everything seemed to going well or so I believed. The consultants always told me not to worry, reminding me that they had gone through the process to become U.S citizens. Time flied, and two years had passed since I had begun my petition. When the third year came without any notice from USCIS, I began to worry about our application and began to have doubts about the advice of the immigrant consultants. I asked around to figure out what had gone wrong and learned that my case had gone nowhere. I was devastated.
Feeling a mixture of despair and anger, I asked for a refund for the fees since my petition had been denied. But the consultant insisted that my case was still pending so that he couldn’t return the money. He even threatened me that he would report to the police about my status if I kept requesting a refund. I had no choice but give up on the money. The reality of my situation knocked me down hard, but I had to figure out a way to stay here.
After difficult searches, I found a company which could file a petition for me and started working for the company. I felt relieved. I worked for the company for two years. Everything seemed well and my lawyer told me to put my worries away.
Later, I got a work permit, which made me think that everything was on track. One day, my lawyer asked me to bring all tax-related documents to submit to USCIS and I did. However, my lawyer soon informed me that my company was not eligible to sponsor my petition. It didn’t have enough income to hire me. Again, I lost my petition and my hopes were shattered. I felt like I was thrown into a turbulent sea: and there was no way to get out alive. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, and my health began to deteriorate.
Since then, I fell into depression and was unable to do anything. I stayed at home feeling miserable. Many times, I thought about going back to Korea, but it had been already five years since I came to the U.S. and my children had become settled. My older son was about to graduate from high school and younger one was going to enter junior high school. Fortunately, both my children did well in school. I did not have enough money to send my son to college and he needed to find a school that could provide a full scholarship. He was admitted to several schools, but none could provide a full scholarship; he would have to give up his plans to go to college.
All my dreams had turned into despair and remorse and I had hit rock bottom. There was no hope left, just despair. Then I ran into the Korean Resource Center and heard about AB 540 and in-state tuition. I jumped for joy, but that feeling didn’t last long because even the cost of in-state tuition was too much for me. Fortunately, community members had heard about our situation gave us some donations and I scrambled together all the money I had. That was how I was able to send my son to a college. Thankfully, he did well in school and that was the light that shone in the darkness that helped me endure the hard times.
Last year President Obama announced DACA and both my children were approved. My older son just graduated from college and was admitted to a graduate program to receive his doctorate. My younger daughter just entered college. I wanted my children to go to college not to become rich with degrees but because it would open a path to their dreams. And I hoped that they would never been denied an opportunity because of their legal status.
My immigration story is not over yet. And I know there are many families like mine. In truth, I used to feel embarrassed to tell my story because I blamed myself for putting my children through such a difficult ordeal. I felt that I had failed as a father.
But I don’t feel that way anymore. I don’t want to be ashamed of who I am. I want to tell you tell others that we should not be discouraged and continue to hope. I know how difficult it is to live as an undocumented immigrant. Yet, I and my family still have hope. I believe we can pass comprehensive immigration reform together.
Let’s not hide any more in the shadows. We’re undocumented, but we are also human beings. Let’s fight together to pass comprehensive immigration reform.
I also have a message to the Members of Congress. We, the undocumented are not different from you. We are just like your friends and families. We also work hard and pay taxes to make this nation better. We’ve been a part of this great nation. If you continue to deny our rights as human beings, if you use us for your political advantage, if you continue to break our families, you will find yourself isolated and you will be held responsible when immigrant families stride to polling places.