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2018.11.20(TUE)

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(코리아타운뉴스) America, Don’t Break the Bridge to Our Dream

By Sangho Hwang
By Sangho Hwang

[LA중앙일보] 발행 2017/10/05 미주판 23면 기사입력 2017/10/04 15:33

Life of dreamer Jung-woo Kim

He has worked laboring jobs since his teens
and now has made over $100,000 thanks to DACA

Jung-woo Kim is posing with Korean-American senior citizens at the Korean Resource Center in Los Angeles.<br>

Jung-woo Kim is posing with Korean-American senior citizens at the Korean Resource Center in Los Angeles.

U.S. President Donald Trump announced early last month that his administration will rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which has allowed those who entered and remained the country illegally as minors to receive renewable permission to work.

The last day to renew for the current “dreamers” is today (Oct. 5). Nearly 10,000 Korean-Americans have benefitted from the DACA, according to the USCIS. In other words, rescinding the program will likely shatter 10,000 dreams in the community. The Korea Daily met with a young man to talk about the DACA and the problems the Korean-American community is facing.

South Korea was embattled by an economic crisis in the winter of 1997. Businesses collapsed left and right. People were taking their own lives after struggling to make ends meet to provide for their families. The South Korean economy, which for decades has been growing endlessly, had finally bottomed out. The crisis created a generation of economic refugees.

On the first floor of an apartment in Seoul, South Korea, Jung-woo Kim’s home was also covered with “red stickers.” Television, refrigerator, and other furnished goods suddenly became properties of the Korean government. The relationship between his parents also broke down.

In 1999, he moved with his sister to Buena Park, Calif., where his other sister was already residing.

Kim, a teenager at the time, had to start working two jobs from the outset. He washed dishes, cleaned restaurants, delivered newspapers and parked cars. He was busy trying to stay awake in classes. He had no time to study. School was no fun for him.

“I remember looking through a paper that advertised available jobs,” said Kim. “I realized that I had experiences in all of those jobs except two. Those two were florist and nail artist.”

Dreamer Jung-woo Kim, 33, is posing for a photo at the Korean Resource Center in Los Angeles. He expressed his support for the Dream Act throughout the interview with the Korea Daily.<br>

Dreamer Jung-woo Kim, 33, is posing for a photo at the Korean Resource Center in Los Angeles. He expressed his support for the Dream Act throughout the interview with the Korea Daily.

Kim first realized that he had issues with his immigration status as a high school student. He applied for a college in California and was soon admitted. However, the school requested that he was due for a tuition that was 10 times more expensive than his peers as he did not have a social security number. Kim was classified as an international student.

“It was about $150 per unit if I remember correctly,” Kim said. “That’s when I first started to think about what being an illegal immigrant is.”
Kim continued to work as a par-time cashier, but his life continued to dwindle in hardships. He moved to New York as a 21-year-old with the goal of making more money. Instead, he was welcomed by a blistering cold weather. He lived without a home at a subway station for days. The language barrier hindered his effort from finding a home.

A few days later, Kim began working as a custodian of a store that remained open 24 hours. There were also days when he lived through the winter on a bench in front of a cathedral.

Thankfully for Kim, he soon found a job at a restaurant. He started work at 7 a.m. and ended past midnight. Kim worked well over 80 hours a week. His monthly income was still around $2,000. He collapsed several times due to exhaustion.

“I lived in an apartment room provided by the government for about $500,” Kim said. “The bathroom was communal. When I turned on the light in my room, I saw an army of cockroaches running away. Several people died there due to drug addiction.”

At his store, most of the customers were those who worked in the financial district on Wall Street. He often saw customers who used the proverbial Black Card, credit cards often issued to the wealthy. Kim approached several of them to ask how he could make money. They all told him that attending college was the answer.

Schools on the East Coast were too expensive for Kim. He returned to L.A. in 2006. He applied to a college in Cypress, but was rejected because he was an undocumented immigrant. By law, graduates of high schools in California are allowed to enroll in the state’s colleges.

Kim filed a lawsuit against the school and was able to earn his admission after six months. About 100 other students who were in the same situation also began to attend the school. The story was covered extensively by the news, and Kim was asked to be interviewed.

By 2011 when the third Dream Act was on the verge of finally passing, Kim was already studying kinesiology at Cal State Fullerton. To raise funds for the Dream Act, he sold badges and T-shirts, but none of his friends knew how important that was for him. In the end, the Dream Act never came to fruition.
“My T-shirt had the word ‘undocument’ on it,” Kim said. “My friends kept asking what that meant. They were also undocumented! So I told them. ‘That means you!’”

Fortunately, former president Barrack Obama made an executive order to implement the DACA. Kim was able to drive legally and go to the hospital when he was sick.

“My sister got married at a Las Vegas casino before the DACA,” Kim said. “I couldn’t get into the casino because I didn’t have an ID. I had to wait until the guard started looking elsewhere to enter.”

After earning a legal status in the U.S., Kim was hired by a large financial firm in 2014. He met around 20 to 30 clients per day and sold various financial products. After just four months into the job, he was ranked No. 1 in sales in the entire city among all salespeople. Kim earned nearly $100,000. He was soon scouted by a women’s apparel business on a higher pay. For him, the DACA was something of a golden bridge.

After quitting his high paying job last October, Kim now works at the Korean Resource Center in Los Angeles. He began to think that simply making a lot of money with an immigration he worked so hard to earn was not worth it. Coincidentally, President Trump has now rescinded the DACA. The immigration policy in the U.S. is facing some major uncertainties.

“Honestly, I knew that the DACA could be rescinded at some point since it was a temporary measure,” Kim said. “So we now have to rally behind our efforts to finally pass the Dream Act. Simply sitting back and waiting will not get it done.”

Kim also criticized the SUCCEED Act that was proposed by the republicans. The SUCCEED Act only grants a 10-year temporary green card to those who entered the country before the age of 16.
“It’s not right to negotiate children’s lives,” Kim said. “Children are not some poker chips at a Las Vegas casino.”

Dreamer Jung-woo Kim, 33, is posing for a photo at the Korean Resource Center in Los Angeles. He expressed his support for the Dream Act throughout the interview with the Korea Daily.

Jung-woo Kim is posing with Korean-American senior citizens at the Korean Resource Center in Los Angeles.


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