Today, in U.S. classrooms, you will find first, second, or third generation immigrant students. Most of these students are U.S. citizens. However, among them, there exists an estimated 1.7 million undocumented young people under age 30 who are enrolled in high school, have graduated, obtained a GED, or are currently enrolled in elementary or middle school, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. Each year, about 65,000 undocumented students graduate from American high schools. As undocumented, they are without basic access to the numerous opportunities available to their documented or U.S. citizen counterparts and face significant barriers to higher education. Undocumented students cannot receive federal education benefits, and in some states, may be ineligible for in-state tuition. These barriers add to the social and economic challenges undocumented students already face as a result of their status.
Like so many of these students who have aspirations of higher education, I too, came from abroad—Seoul, South Korea—and arrived in the U.S. in 1981 under a student visa. I was only a one-year old baby back then, and when my visa expired in 1985, I became undocumented at the age of 5. I’ve now lived in the U.S. for the last 35 years. I attended public schools, graduating from Stuyvesant High School in New York City in 1998, and later graduating magna cum laude in 2003 from University of Tennessee, Knoxville with a BA in Sociology with a concentration in Criminal Justice and a Minor in Psychology.
Thirteen years later, I am still stuck in my invisible prison behind invisible bars and with invisible chains. This is a prison where my lack of Social Security number prevents me from working, driving, voting, and accessing certain basic human rights, like health care. I am too old for the temporary reprieve from deportation under the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative, as I missed the cut off by a year. If I were a DACA recipient, I would be eligible for a work permit and temporary protection from removal. However, that obstacle has never deterred me, and even though it been many years since college, I still aspire to go to law school, and ultimately become a federal judge.
As the Supreme Court decides the fate of President Obama’s executive actions in United States v. Texas, which includes two deferred action initiatives – an expanded DACA and a proposed Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) initiative – I, along with an estimated 290,000 persons eligible for expanded DACA and over 3.7 million persons eligible for DAPA, eagerly await their decision. In the absence of congressional reform, this is our hope along with our dream to contribute more fully to the country we have long called home.
- U.S. Children of Undocumented Immigrants Set Up for Failure by Current Policies (American Immigration Council) – This blog demonstrates the profound impact of current immigration policies on pre-K-12 U.S. students.
- What the U.S. Supreme Court Case on Executive Action Means for Schools (American Immigration Council) – This blog details some of the implications of United States v. Texas on schools.