May 2005 was a critical moment in the immigration reform debate. Following the passage in the House of Representatives of the harsh, anti-immigrant, and widely opposed bill, H.R. 4437, the Senate took up their version of immigration reform.Though there were significant gains towards comprehensive reform, the final version that passed on May 25 (by a vote of 62-36) contained many of the same harsh and punitive provisions as H.R. 4437, failing to meet the demands of immigrant communities and their supporters. The two bills will be reconciled in Conference Committee later this year.During this important time in the struggle for humane immigration reform, NAKASEC and its affiliates organized and worked to ensure that the concerns and hopes of the Korean American community was at the forefront of the discussions.
In a span of a week, NAKASEC and its affiliates coordinated a national Korean American sign-on letter for humane immigration reform which was sent to Congressional members. In total, 142 Korean community, faith-based, and business organizations from 8 states (NY, GA, PA, IL, MN, WA, OR, and CA) endorsed the letter. The sign on letters were hand delivered to House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus Chair Mike Honda, Representatives Neil Abercrombie and Zoe Lofgren, and Senators Harry Reid and Hillary Clinton on May 17 during a national lobby day.
May 17 was also the day for the first ever Congressional Democratic Asian and Pacific Islander American Leadership Summit. EunSook Lee, NAKASEC executive director served as one of the panelist for the afternoon’s keynote panel: “The Immigration Debate and the APIA Community Perspective.” Also participating in the day’s activities were representatives from YKASEC â€“ Empowering the Korean American Community in New York and the Korean American Resource & Cultural Center in Chicago.
The following week, Korean American youth raised their voices during a National Lobby Day for the “American DREAM Act” on May 24. Three youth leaders from Illinois, New York, and Ohio joined more than 75 other youth from across the country in Washington, DC. Included in the delegation was Connie Yoon, a talented art student who would benefit under the DREAM Act, Andrew Jung, a 15-year old citizen whose parents were deported almost a year ago, and Kevin Kang, a US-born young person who is concerned for his community.The group met with elected officials to discuss how the broken immigration system has had a devastating impact on themselves, their families and friends. The delegation also met with Senate Judiciary member Senator Mike DeWine (R-OH) directly to state the need for immigration reform that is just and humane.Youth also participated in a press event on the Capitol Lawn where Andrew was a featured speaker.
Locally, Korean American community members were actively organizing and demonstrating their political power.Some highlights include:
*As a member of the recently formed Asian American Caucus, KRCC began the Postcard Campaign for Comprehensive Immigration Reform on May 15.With over twenty other Asian organizations, KRCC will be collecting signatures until the end of June and delivering it to their representatives.
*The Korean Resource Center in Los Angeles collected 3,200 postcards from Korean American community members to Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-IL) and Senate Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) urging for humane immigration reform.
*Also in Los Angeles, KRC and other community organizations met with staff from Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) on May 17.To coincide with the visits, KRC set up an Immigration Justice Action Center where community members were encouraged to call their representative, sign a postcard, and register to vote.
*A recently formed coalition called Korean Americans for Just Immigration Reform, met with staff from Senators Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Rick Santorum (R-PA) to discuss the concerns of the Philadelphia Korean American community on May 25 and 26.
Numerous activities are planned over the summer to further engage, activate, and empower Korean Americans as Congress moves into Conference Committee.