By HyunJoo Lee
Friends, colleagues, community members, even my parents, are asking me when immigration reform will happen. People are waiting for change and are starting to wonder if it will ever happen. There is no guarantee of how or when immigration reform will happen, but one thing is certain: the American dream is alive and well in the students, working parents, and families that have come to this country in search for a better life and who will not give up until we fix our current broken immigration system.
On March 21, this hope in the American dream will be visible when 100,000 students, parents, workers, advocates and allies come together for the March for America, an event that will send a powerful message to President Barack Obama and Congress that change takes courage, and the time for change is now.
For many, the American dream is cultivated in countries like South Korea, El Salvador, Morocco, and Vietnam, where hard-working people aspire to better lives for themselves and their children. Until recently, I lived in El Salvador for two years and I’ve come to realize that the American dream is not a dream at all. A dream is available to all. Yet in today’s anti-immigrant climate, in which immigrants are called criminals and told that our economic contributions and dreams are invalid, dreams have become an illusion.
I am the product of an American dream. My parents brought my brother and I to Los Angeles in 1988, leaving behind their college degrees and jobs to work in a country where they did not know the language or culture. They brought us here because they wanted to us to dream big, and they believed that America was an equal-opportunity, merit-based country. I am forever indebted to their sacrifice and faith in me and do believe that who I am today would not have been possible in any other country. But at age 60, my parents are working low-wage jobs and still do not have health insurance. I wonder if this country cannot do better for them.
It is this deep belief that America can do better for all that keeps me committed to immigration reform and the DREAM Act–federal legislation that would give eligible undocumented students a pathway to legalization. Immigrants who came in search of the American dream are being forced into the shadows as second-class citizens without the right of due process, vulnerable to raids and separation from their families, their economic contributions denied by racism and intolerance. This includes Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, who make up 10 percent of the undocumented population, and Korean Americans,15 percent of whom are undocumented. Undocumented students who are graduating top of their class and want to become lawyers and doctors cannot receive financial aid or must work low wage cash jobs to pay for their classes.
America can and must do better. That is why the immigrant rights community and allies will come together in Washington, D.C., on Sunday to demand real change to uplift all Americans. We are ready and commit to working together to rebuild the economy and live the values that make America so great. For more information, please visit www.reformimmigrationforamerica.org.