NAKASEC Immigrant Rights Program, August 2007 Update

Comprehensive Immigration Reform
With an undocumented population of more than 12 million people and millions more waiting years, sometimes decades to reunify with family members, there is growing public awareness that the immigration system is broken. While there is less certainty these days that Congress may take up immigration reform that is not only comprehensive but also just & humane in the coming months, communities across the nation know that political will for a serious proposal is desperately needed. A possible framework for such a proposal would be the bipartisan STRIVE Act (Security Through Regularized Immigration and a Vibrant Economy Act of 2007) introduced by Representatives Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) in March, 2007.

Korean American communities have been engaged in the national effort realize long-term systemic changes to our immigration laws since 1994. In doing so, we have reached a level of consensus that any legislative proposal must contain the following components:

1. Keep families together by preserving the family preference categories, eliminating the immigration backlogs, stopping mandatory & indefinite detentions and cruel deportations for minor infractions.
2. Bring millions of hard working undocumented immigrants and their children out of the shadows and provide them a path to citizenship.
3. Protect all workers regardless of their immigration status.
4. Allow young immigrants to reach their full potential through access to college.
5. Protect and restore basic rights and liberties, including allowing every person to have their day in court.

Stopping the Anti-Immigrant Tide
In the absence of federal legislation, there are growing attempts by local governments, agencies and institutions to criminalize, discriminate, or deny basic rights to immigrants. Immigrant communities are feeling increasingly vulnerable and less likely to contact police or seek medical help in emergency cases. At the same time, there is growing demand for information and resources on how to protect their basic rights & liberties. More specifically, NAKASEC affiliates are focusing on the following issues in the Korean American community:

Public access to education
In recent months, NAKASEC and its Los Angeles affiliate, the Korean Resource Center (KRC) has been deluged with different forms of discrimination and basic rights violations with regard to access to public education (pre and post secondary). First, NAKASEC has resolved unsettling cases of young children being denied admissions to public school because of their immigration status, including a 5-year-old child. These denials are in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and contravene Supreme Court precedent established in the 1982 case of Plyler v. Doe. Second, college-bound undocumented students have been denied admissions also because of their immigration status and in violation of the California Education Code. Third, California public institutions of higher education are misinterpreting the definition of undocumented, thus denying eligibility of in-state tuition to hundreds of students, primarily from Asia. In response, NAKASEC is working with the National Immigration Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California to defend individual students’ rights and to develop a systemic plan to train administrators and implement other measures to ensure that public educational institutions abide by existing federal and state laws with regard to access to education.

Know Your Rights – Raids
Aggravating the current political climate is the ramping up of “interior enforcement strategies” by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) — raids on worksites, college campuses, and individual homes — which are tearing families apart as well as devastating local communities and businesses. While NAKASEC is holding conversations to discuss policy solutions, we have also prioritized the education of our community members through “Know Your Rights” bilingual materials and trainings.

SSA no-match letters
On August 10, 2007, the Department of Homeland Security and Commerce Department released 26 draconian provisions that drive immigrant communities to further into the shadows. Most disturbing is how DHS is using the no-match letter as an immigration enforcement tool by allowing ICE to use receipt of the no-match letter as evidence that the employer has “constructive knowledge” that an employee is unauthorized to work. If the discrepancy is unresolved, the employer may then be penalized. Letters are being sent to approximately 140,000 employers, corresponding to roughly 8 million workers. NAKASEC has already expressed grave concerns that the measure will lead to widespread cases of racial profiling and discrimination of workers and confusion on the part of the employers.

Immigrant Access to Higher Education – American DREAM Act (S. 774, H. R. 1275)
Each year 65,000 undocumented immigrant students graduate from US high schools, uncertain whether they will be able to realize their dreams. These students are U.S.-raised children of immigrants who are denied the opportunity to build a future in America, the country that they call home. As undocumented students, they face difficulty pursuing higher education because they are denied financial aid, scholarships, loans, and in-state tuition rates in most states. Those that have the resources to graduate are unlikely to work in the field of their choice or study. And more tragically, they live daily with the fear of being deported to a country that they barely know.

Understanding the plight of these students, bi-partisan bills such as the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act and the Student Adjustment Act, were first introduced by Congress in 2001. The DREAM Act (S. 774) and the American Dream Act (HR 1275) were re-introduced March 2007 by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chuck Hagel (R-NE) and Richard Lugar (R-IN) and Representatives Howard Berman (D-CA), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), and Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL).

Child Citizen Protection Act (H.R. 1176)
An estimated 3.1 million U.S. citizen children have at least one parent who is undocumented, making up nearly 1 in 10 American families of mixed immigration status. Every year, nearly 200,000 non-citizens are deported each year and separated from their families. The Child Citizen Protection Act (H.R. 1176), introduced by Representative Jose Serrano (D-NY), would provide immigration judges with the discretion that is necessary in considering deportation cases that involve U.S. citizen children.

What you can do
1. Please write to and/or call Congress and the President to let them know that you oppose anti-immigrant proposals and support realistic and humane solutions for immigration reform, such as the American DREAM Act and the Child Citizen Protection Act.

Your Representative
The US House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
202.225.3121

Your Senator
The US Senate
Washington, DC 20510
202.224.3121

President George W. Bush
The White House
Washington, DC 20500
202.456.1111

2. View, read and add your own story as part of the Dreams Across America Tour, a public awareness campaign that presents to the American public and lawmakers compelling stories about everyday Americans living under the strain of the broken immigration system. Visit the website at www.dreamsacrossamericaonline.org.

3. Support the DREAM Scholarship Fund – Another way to address barriers to higher education is by ensuring that all are afforded the same opportunities regardless of immigration status. Created by the NAKASEC-Affiliate Youth Groups for their peers, the scholarship fund supports talented low-income students who are ineligible for most existing scholarships or federal aid program. Please contact NAKASEC on how to contribute and get involved.

4. Download and distribute NAKASEC’s “Know Your Rights” fact sheets and brochures (in English & Korean) about access to public education and raids from www.nakasec.org.