Korean American community rallies to be heard in Senate race
by Kyung Jin Leeand Katie Smith
Jan 27, 2010
After repeated attempts to meet directly with an Illinois congressman, a local Korean American group finally got a response, but not before they prepared to go public with their demands.
Sik Sohn, executive director of the Korean Resource and Cultural Center, said his organization had continually reached out to U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Northbrook) to discuss sensible solutions to issues important to the Korean American community, namely health care and immigration reform.
Sohn said his group submitted petitions signed by more than 1,200 members of the Korean community requesting a meeting with Kirk. He said Kirk’s office only got back to him when Sohn sent a fax letting Kirk’s office know of a press conference to announce that Kirk had rebuffed their request again.
An e-mail from Kirk’s congressional office Wednesday said an attempt was made to contact the center. “Our office previously reached out to the Korean American Resource and Cultural Center to schedule a meeting with 10th District residents,” said Susan Kuczka, spokeswoman for Kirk.
Sohn said he and a coalition of community groups had scheduled a meeting with Kirk on Feb. 26, several weeks after the Feb. 2 primary. After the fax announcing the press conference was sent, Kirk’s office contacted center representatives offering a meeting with a Kirk representative they had talked to several times before. The two sides agreed that Feb. 26 would be the time they could meet with Kirk himself.
Kirk’s voting record on immigration has been mixed. He voted to construct a fence along the border with Mexico and has supported tough immigration law enforcement. However, he voted against a 2004 bill that would require hospitals to report undocumented immigrants seeking emergency medical care.
George Lieu, immigrant rights organizer for the center, said the most recent estimate of the Korean community in the Chicago area ranges between 100,000 and 150,000. He acknowledged the community does not wield any power in statewide politics and so the center is exerting its energy to mobilize voters in the community.
Because the center is a nonprofit organization, it can’t make a political endorsement without risking its tax-exempt status.
“In 2006, the race between Mark Kirk and the Democratic candidate, it was like a 6,000 to 7,000 vote difference. It was a very close race,” Sohn said. “The number of Korean registered voters can change the result in that district. So that’s why we’re asking people. We need to engage, we need to participate so we can have our voice heard in that election.”
“A lot of Koreans are realizing that actual influence comes from actual voting,” Lieu said. “We are urging them to participate in not only the primary, but also November elections.”
Wednesday’s press conference in the center’s offices at 6146 N. Lincoln Ave. featured a demonstration on how to operate voting machines.