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My Sister’s Sons Make Me Smile – An Immigration Story

By April 14, 2011No Comments

By Young Sun Song

My nephews Samuel and Daniel are 6 and 4 years old, respectively. Last year, as the Korean American Resource & Cultural Center prepared for March for America, a major mobilization for comprehensive immigration reform in Washington, DC, it was a relief for me to tweet:

my nephews are great reminder that life is about fun & play! from the moment they wake up in the morning, they sing songs & play all day! - @youngsun0907, March 15, 2010Their parents, my sister and brother-in-law, were born in Korea while my nephews were born in the US. My sister came to the US about 14 years ago with my brother-in-law who came to attend school in Iowa. At the time, Korea was in post-IMF crisis and the dollar was twice as expensive as before. Many people gave up on coming to the US due to the cost, but my sister and brother-in-law were determined. My sister is undocumented but works and lives here in Chicago. My brother lives in Indonesia. We have parents in Korea that my sister cannot visit even though she wants to. We are physically very separate– Korea, Indonesia and the US. As the eldest, she feels responsible for taking care of my parents as they age – this concern has been most difficult for her. In many ways, she has an identical daily experience in the US as a green card holder. I am thankful for her and my nephews’ presence in my life.

My Nephews

My sister is active in her church and conducts Sunday School. She is in Bible Study with another couple. She has a sense of community with other moms – a group of friends whose kids’ ages are the same. She and my nephews have come to immigration rallies with me. She is very remorseful, which is why she is saving money in case there is a way to hire a lawyer, pay a fine and adjust her legal status when the right legislation passes. She wants to return to school for early childhood education and run a daycare center.

Several months ago, my sister’s purse was snatched from her while she was walking down the street. We felt much fear researching whether she could replace her driver’s license, worrying that she might get deported. She needed it badly because she needs some kind of ID. Also, now that my nephews go to school, she has had to drive more. Luckily, my sister was able to get her license replaced legitimately. As a green card holder myself, I often learn about changes in immigration rules via my friends’ experiences. Yet my sister will not be talking to other people who are undocumented about renewing her driver’s license. Being undocumented can be an isolating experience though it came about unexpectedly.

My sister came here on a student-spouse visa. One summer she and her husband decided to take classes together, so she changed her status to student. She did not know that she had to change it back. She learned she was undocumented when my brother-in-law tried to change his status from a student to a work visa. They sought to apply together but the lawyer said it was not a good idea to apply with an undocumented spouse. Also, the church sponsoring his work visa was not able to do so. If they left the country, my sister couldn’t return in 10 years. With no job prospects in Korea, and conversations about comprehensive immigration reform, they remained hopeful about life here.

Young Sun with KRCC Staff (2010)

We thought comprehensive immigration reform would occur before my or her son’s sponsorship of a family-based visa could bear fruit. I want my sister to feel the opposite of floating. I want her to feel rooted in our community and loved in this land. I live with my sister, brother-in-law and my nephews; comprehensive immigration reform and the Reuniting Families Act would improve all of our lives.


Are you curious about how family-based immigration reform would benefit Asian American and Pacific Islander communities? Please join us for a conference call with Rep. Mike Honda on Monday, April 18 at 4 pm EST/ 1 pm PST / 10 am HAST to learn more about the reintroduction of the Reuniting Families Act. RSVP and ask a question here

Young Sun Song is the Youth Program Director at the Korean American Resource & Cultural Center (KRCC). To learn more about KRCC, please see