CHN’s Podcast Episode 6: Undocumented and Unafraid: Student Advocates Speak Out for Immigration Reform


October 29, 2021

The new episode of the Voices for Human Needs podcast features a panel discussion with undocumented and unafraid young organizers from the National Korean American Service (NAKASEC), in addition to the Korean Resource Center (KRC), based in Los Angeles, California. On September 21, 2021, thousands of immigration advocates from across the country marched in Washington D.C. to welcome Congress back from their August recess. The event, entitled “Welcome Back Congress – March for Citizenship, Care, and Climate,was a part of a nationwide effort to demand a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in the budget reconciliation package.

Featured speakers Matthew Hernandez (KRC), Ferny Estrada (KRC), Hyunja Norman (Woori Juntos), and Hwangchan Yu (Hana Center) are all organizers and student advocates who are currently attending colleges in California and Chicago, some as DACA recipients. They discuss the strength in intersectional organizing and making sure that all immigrant communities are represented in advocacy campaigns to finally secure a pathway to citizenship and permanent protections for undocumented immigrants: “I think we need to uplift that and just let folks know that this isn’t just a Latinx issue. This isn’t just a young people issue. It’s an everyone issue.” 


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Lives in Limbo Without Permanent Protections:

With many students in school this fall amidst the ongoing stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic, many students and their families are also burdened with additional anxieties and stresses associated with being undocumented. These additional challenges could include not having the proper documentation for certain opportunities such as federal student aid, living with the fear of deportation, or dealing with anti-immigrant rhetoric often circulated in political discourse.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA program, began in June 2012 under then-President Barack Obama. The program provides temporary relief from deportation for eligible undocumented young adults who were brought to the U.S. as children. In addition, DACA recipients can receive renewable two-year work permits to work legally for higher wages, access to in-state tuition in some states, and a Social Security Number to complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA form, which allows a DACA recipient to apply for state and college financial aid.

The DACA program provides evidence of the profound benefits that legal status has for supporting the educational and professional ambitions of millions of young and talented people. But at its core, DACA is still a temporary and limited relief from deportation and has faced numerous attacks since it began. The most recent challenge to the program happened in July 2021 when Federal Judge Andrew Hanen of a U.S. District Court in Texas ruled DACA unlawful. While that decision allows continued protection for immigrants currently under DACA, it blocks the Biden administration from accepting any new, or first-time DACA applications. 

On September 28, 2021, President Biden instructed the Department of Homeland Security to propose a rule to solidify the DACA program. Yet, July’s court decision will have a tremendous impact on nearly 550,000 K-12 Dreamers who are currently barred from applying for DACA for the first time. 

Pathway To Citizenship Crucial For Undocumented Advocates:

For one of our speakers, Ferny, an undocumented student advocate with the Korean Resource Center based in California, they have been they started speaking out about their experiences and “becoming a little more fearless” after graduating from high school: “All my friends were citizens and I just noticed how different I was from them. Especially as non-DACA and undocumented. All of my friends were getting their first jobs and I was there not being able to be officially employed because I don’t have DACA and I don’t have any status. I saw a lot of them traveling out of the country or even just, driving down to San Diego, which can be a dangerous spot for a lot of undocumented people. That’s the moment where I realized I was tired of being scared. I am tired of not being able to do the same things as [my friends with documentation].”

Rachel Koelzer, the Communications Manager at NAKASEC, also speaks to the benefits that a pathway to citizenship would have for the Asian immigrant community specifically in being able to respond to increased incidents of hate and violence: “We know that this year in particular, in the past year and a half, we’ve seen the highest rates of violence against Asian community members, the highest that they’ve been in over 12 years. We know that a lot of our community is afraid to seek help, to seek justice. They’re not able to and they’re afraid to because of their undocumented status… I want to uplift that this issue impacts a wide number of communities and for the Asian immigrant community, we really need a pathway to citizenship–just as everyone else–to be able to pursue justice and fulfill our dreams.”

Be sure to add your voice and people power to the movement of finally achieving meaningful immigration reform by taking some of the actions listed below! 

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