I was in my college dorm in Tennessee. My roommate woke me up and told me about a disaster at the World Trade Center. I immediately called my parents in Brooklyn, wanting to know if they were okay. My mom replied that she was fine, but it was the people in Manhattan that she was worried about most.
I ran down the hall to see all my fellow students watching the news, and hear that my alma mater, Stuyvesant High School, was being evacuated. “Such a tragedy – perhaps it’s time for a prayer,” I thought. I walked to the nearest Christian community group center and saw 20 students already praying together with the news in the background. I knew that joining them was the only thing that could comfort me.
The national trauma of 9/11 brought on another hurdle. Immigrants had become the “other.“ Many communities suffered severe profiling and bias attacks, especially in New York City. For those of us working in the immigration advocacy space, we knew no immigration reform bill would pass for years to come.
I have been in America for 33 years. I was born in Seoul, South Korea and brought over as a baby when my parents immigrated to Nashville, TN in 1981 on student visas. They were determined to make a life in America because of the poverty and struggle they escaped from in South Korea. My parents did what they could — taking odd jobs while studying hard and raising a family.
We moved to New York City in 1988 because of better job opportunities. Being undocumented, my parents were unable to legally work for an employer, but were able to start a business. So they opened up a Korean grocery story in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn.
I learned the truth about my undocumented status in high school, when I was 17, right before my senior year. Wanting to be a pediatrician back then, I went to a hospital for a residency program, only to be told to come back with a green card. So I asked my parents about it. They told me they were working on it and for safety reasons I couldn’t pursue the residency program. I was obviously saddened, confused, and angry. How was this true? I had been in America for over 16 years at that point.
Nevertheless, I went back to Tennessee for college and graduated Magna Cum Laude in 2003 with a degree in Sociology with a concentration in Criminal Justice, and a minor in Psychology. Despite my degree, I am unable to move forward and pursue my aspirations of becoming a federal judge. In a cruel and callous twist, when Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was announced in 2012, I was then too old to qualify — by only one year.
Even with my degree, I’ve only been able to take jobs under the books. I’ve worked at a pizzeria, flower store, construction sites, and am ever-present at my parents’ grocery store. I am one of New York City’s 500,000 undocumented residents and am part of the roughly 375,000 undocumented workers that contribute to the fabric of the city.
As we honor the lives lost today, we also remember the hundreds of undocumented workers who were in the Twin Towers as they collapsed. We also can’t forget the first responders and individual volunteers, many of whom are part of the 8.1 million immigrant residents of the five boroughs.
Without much Congressional help and the President delaying his executive action, immigration continues to be gridlocked. Even though I’ve been here for 33 years, there remains no pathway to citizenship for people like me. I don’t qualify for the DREAM Act or DACA. I’m really just #1of11Million.
While Congress, Republicans, Democrats, and the President keep blaming each other for the stalemate, my questions continue to be: When can I move on with my life? When can I finally pursue my aspirations? Why is it taking so long?
What will it finally take (for me and the rest of the 11 million) to be recognized as Americans?
Jong-Min You, 34
Arrived in 1981 from Seoul, South Korea (approximately 33 yrs. in the US, arrived at the age of 1) Currently lives in Bensonhurst (Brooklyn), New York
Jong-Min You came to the United States as a child, under his parents’ student visas in 1981. Though he has a university degree, with honors, in sociology, with a concentration in criminal justice, and a minor in psychology, his undocumented status has prevented him from working in his desired fields. He currently manages the family grocery store, as well as, the two apartments that his parents rent out above his family’s property. Jong-Min has actively worked to raise awareness on immigration issues and appeared on the cover of Time Magazine as part of a group of undocumented immigrants featured in the cover article. Jong-Min narrowly missed the age cut-off for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and is filing affirmatively for Deferred Action.