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Flying as an undocumented Asian Pacific American

By May 20, 20112 Comments
By David Cho
New Organizing Project blogger
April 20, 2010
2:00 am: What if I get deported? Stop it. I’ll be okay tomorrow. I hope I’m okay tomorrow.


April 21, 2010
7:00 am: I get in the shower. My plane departs at 10 am – I better hurry.

8:00 am: “Mom, I love you. I’ll see you when I get back. Don’t worry about me. Dad, let’s go.”

9:00 am: “Thanks, Dad. I’ll text you once I pass security. I love you.”

9:15 am: Okay, where do I go? This is my first time in an airport by myself. “Excuse me – which way do I go?” I show my boarding pass to a kind-looking Southwest staff. She replies, “Go down the elevator and go through security.”

9:15:05 am: Security. (I swallow in a big gulp of air).

9:20 am: I wait patiently in line. A cute girl holding her mom’s pale hand ahead of me in line smiles but I can’t smile back at her. I usually smile when kids smile at me because they are so genuine. Why am I not smiling back at her? Wait, why is she smiling at me in the first place?

9:21 am: I am five feet away from a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) guard whose eyes seem to glare at every IDs in his hands. A podium in front of him reads: “Property of Homeland Security.”

9:21:05 am: (I swallow in another big gulp of air).

9:25 am: Okay – my friends said to just act cool. Some suggested I look bored. It’s not working. I think I look worried. My heart starts to beat faster and faster. David, keep it together. Just look cool. How can I look cool? I feel a little dizzy…

9:26 am: I hand over my South Korean passport to the TSA guard. He stares at me and back at my passport. He places it under a high-tech looking scanner that shines a bright blue light on my passport.

9:26:20 am: Tick tock. Tick tock. He hands me back my passport. “Go ahead,” he says.

9:26:25 am: My eyes are greeted by at least seven TSA guards. They all have a spiffy-looking patch that says “Homeland Security” on their bright blue uniforms. I place my heavy UCLA bag pack on a cart along with my belt, shoes, and jacket, and I patiently wait for it on the other side of the scanner. BEEP. BEEP. Uh-oh. A tall black TSA guard grabs my bag pack and warns me, “Sir, you have to take out your lap top out of your bag pack. We have to scan all your belongings again.” I apologize and place my belongings before the scanner again.

9:27:00 am: No beep this time. I quickly wrap my belt around my waist, place my lap top back in my bag pack, put my shoes on, and walk away. PHEW. I text my dad “I passed security.”

9:35 am: I get to the gate and I see some people heading in the terminal. One short TSA guard confidently shouts, “For security purposes, we will conduct another ID check as you board your plane.” Are you kidding me? I text my dad “Another security.” I flash my passport and she briefly skims over it. “Welcome,” she says.

9:40 am: I finally sit down and text my dad “I’m on the plane. Thank the Lord.”

10:00 am: Good-bye, Los Angeles. Here I come, Salt Lake City.


In the past month, I have been privileged to speak at immigration conferences or attend a blogging training with #nakasec. Since my first flight to Utah, I’ve been to Chicago and Indianapolis. I don’t have that fear of flying with my passport anymore. I am undocumented and unafraid.


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