NAKASEC Testimony to the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugee and Border Security, 4/30/2009

Watch the hearing at: 2 p.m. EST on April 30, 2009 at : http://judiciary.senate.gov/hearings/hearing.cfm?id=3793

TESTIMONY of
EunSook Lee on behalf of

National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC)
Korean American Resource & Cultural Center (KRCC), Chicago, IL
Korean Resource Center (KRC), Los Angeles, CA

submitted to the

Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security
Committee on the Judiciary
United States Senate

April 30, 2009

The National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC) was founded in 1994 by local community centers to project a national progressive voice and promote the full participation of Korean Americans as a part of a greater goal of building a national movement for social change. These affiliates include the Korean American Resource & Cultural Center (KRCC) in Chicago and the Korean Resource Center (KRC) in Los Angeles. NAKASEC maintains its national office in Los Angeles and an office in Washington, D.C.

Since our inception, advancing immigrant rights has been NAKASEC’s signature program. Key campaigns to support comprehensive immigration reform include the Dollar A Day campaign that resulted in raising funds to place prominent ads in the New York Times and Washington Post, the national Asian Pacific American Mobilization for Immigration Reform that brought together 400 Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) from 37 states, and the Dreams Across America Tour that presented compelling immigrant and non-immigrant spokespeople to garner over 500 positive media hits in a one-week period. While seeking policy victories, NAKASEC and its affiliates’ campaigns are deliberate in humanizing the issue and securing broad public support for immigrants and immigration reform.

Why AAPIs care about immigration reform
AAPIs and Korean Americans are hurt by every aspect of the broken immigration system. Thousands of bright youth cannot fulfill their dreams, many more are living in the shadows, countless others are separated because of the immigration backlogs and immigrant enforcement activities, and there are those languishing and dying in detention centers.

•    58% of AAPIs and 76% of Korean Americans are immigrants. 1 out of 10 AAPIs and 1 out of 5 are undocumented. Most AAPIs live in mixed status families. Every year, 65,000 undocumented students graduate from high school unable to realize their potential and fully participate in American society. An accurate count of the AAPI undocumented youth population is not available. What is known is that 24% of AAPIs are under the age of 18, 15% of AAPI youth are U.S. born citizens, and 10% of the total population is undocumented.

•    Family and employment immigration are the two primary means of entry to the U.S. for AAPIs and Korean Americans. An estimated four to five million spouses, children, and siblings of U.S. citizens and green card residents are currently caught in the family immigration backlogs. AAPIs are more likely than other groups to be caught in the backlogs waiting for family unification. Chinese, Indian and Filipino families, among others, all face wait times of over ten years because of the backlogs.

•    As a predominantly immigrant work force with a significant population that are limited English proficient, the protection of rights for workers and employers is fundamental. It is estimated that 18.8 million (14%) of the U.S. workforce are immigrants, and 4.9 million (26%) of them are from Asia. One-third of all Korean American families are employed in or operate a small business, working long hours with little or no benefits, including health insurance.

•    Basic due process rights and civil liberties to individuals are important for Korean Americans. Because AAPIs account for about 2% of total deportations and detention and we are a racial minority, we face additional and different challenges, such as language barriers, social isolation and lack of access to cultural competent treatment or services. AAPI detainees and their families have reported that they make choices without understanding their rights or have difficulty requesting medical attention because of the lack of language access.

Community Stories

Kannie Yoon, an undocumented student, is an incredibly gifted young artist who studied at one of the top art institutions in the country. She came to the U.S. from Korea as a teenager and began working in her family’s dry cleaning business to support her family. Despite language barriers, Kannie studied hard and graduated with a 4.0 GPA. Because she is undocumented, she did not have access to financial aid or loans. Kannie and her family worked long hours and multiple jobs to pay for her tuition and expenses. Her sister even sacrificed her hopes to go to college to support Kannie. Despite these hardships, Kannie was able to graduate. But without the opportunity to become gain full citizenship and contribute to society, how can she put that degree to work?

Andrew Jung’s life turned upside down at the age of 15 years. Born in Toledo, Ohio to Young Jung, a volunteer librarian, and Dae Jung, a sushi chef, Andrew was a high school student at Emanuel Baptist. His parents came as a newlywed couple in 1984 from South Korea. However because of a document misfiling, they became undocumented. On Valentine’s Day 2005, Toledo police along with the Department of Homeland Security came to their home and took Young away, leaving Dae to care for Andrew as a minor. While being moved to four different detention facilities, with each move unannounced to Andrew and Dae, Young’s health began to deteriorate gravely. On August 11, 2005, his parents made the painful decision of leaving Andrew alone in the U.S. with family friends, and self-deported. A minor, with no other family in the United States, Andrew’s parents signed away their parental rights and granted guardianship to the parents of his best friend since childhood. What national security threats do a volunteer librarian and a sushi chef pose? How is America made better with the forced removal of Young and Dae Jung? How can we support policies that leave U.S. citizen children parentless?

Young Sook Kim was detained during a raid on a massage parlor in Arizona. Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, her health deteriorated rapidly to the point that she could not eat. Despite other Korean American detainees translating Kim’s pleas for medical attention, she never received proper medical care. Instead she was given only Tums or Tylenol and periodic finger-prick blood tests. Only after her eyes turned yellow did detention facility staff agree to send her to the hospital. She died two weeks later on or around September 10, 2006. How can this country justify the inhumane treatment of any individual held in detention centers?

Conclusion
Comprehensive immigration reform must be based on the principles of keeping families together, strengthening our economy, and making America more secure. A comprehensive solution must contain the following policy priorities: broad legalization (including provisions for talented undocumented young people), preservation of the family-based immigration system, elimination of family immigration backlogs, end to mandatory and indefinite detentions and cruel deportations for minor infractions, allow every person to have their day in court, protection of workers against profiling and unjust termination, and promotion of immigrant integration.

To address today’s economic crisis and tomorrow’s future challenges, it is in our shared national interest to promote measures that enable everyone to contribute to their fullest. Immigration reform is key to America’s prosperity. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that $66 billion in new revenue over 10 years would have been generated if the 2006 immigration reform bill, which would have legalized most of America’s undocumented population, had passed. The White House Council of Economic Advisers concluded that immigration increases the U.S. Gross Domestic Product by $37 billion each year.

Like all Americans, Korean Americans and immigrants arrived to contribute to the greatness and strength of this nation from the arts and science to the economy. 1.1 million Asian-owned firms provided jobs to 2.2 million employees and had receipts of $326.4 billion in 2002. One third of Korean Americans operate and/or work in small businesses. 469,991(36%) of Korean American are registered voters. Statistics show that when registered, Korean Americans demonstrate high rates of continued political participation. The Korean American citizen voting age population, according to the 2000 Census, is 529,692. That number is expected to increase tremendously and represent the political potential of Korean Americans.

The political moment is now. Congress must focus on the enactment of a comprehensive immigration reform law that is a workable solution to the problems plaguing our immigration system. It is the right thing to do to provide all Americans with equitable and fair opportunities to build a better life for themselves, their children and their community. Thank you again for your attention and consideration.

The National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC) is a member of the Campaign for Community Values, Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM), National Council of Asian Pacific Americans, Reform Immigration for America, and the Rights Working Group, the testimony reflect our 15 years of educating and organizing in Korean American communities.

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