OC Korean Community Has Immigration Fights on its Hands, Too

Courtesy of Korean Resource Center

By Sandra De Anda

Two weeks ago, I attended a community block party organized by the Korean Resource Center (KRC) held at The Source in Buena Park. I was filled with a great sense of joy seeing all these young people who identified as Korean-Americans, as well as other youth of color, getting together on a Saturday to talk about immigration and housing issues affecting them, as well as to celebrating their identities in a time when they are being denounced and questioned. Around 300 people came to the event throughout the day, including KRC organizer Alice Lee.

“One in seven Koreans are undocumented,”  Lee told me. “A problem we face as a community is that our immigrant parents are scared of us not fitting into this society. The model minority identity is also a problem. Our parents don’t tell us to go to rallies to protest, so the large issue we are facing is trying to bring out people to political events.”

A majority of undocumented Korean immigrants overstay their visas. But there’s also the historical backdrop of many Koreans being adopted by families in the Unites States only only to have their citizenship filings fumbled by them. Lee says that KRC is currently aware of four deportation cases in their community. 

“I hope for the Korean community to accept that they’re undocumented,” Lee said. “It’s okay to be undocumented. They feel like they’ve committed a big crime when they haven’t.” 

Based on the 2017 Orange County Immigration Profile Report, Koreans are the third largest foreign-born community in OC with an estimated 68,917 people of Korean origin residing here. OC is “also home to the second largest number of foreign-born persons from Korea (behind LA County).” Aside from the adoption cases, this data can best be informed because many Korean individuals moved to OC after the LA Riots of 1992. Racial tensions among community members played a big role (If you want to see a film addressing this, watch Gook! It’s really something). City incentives were also created to support Koreans businesses in Fullerton, Buena Park, and Irvine.

Since the 1940’s American families have adopted 18,000 Koreans but many of these people have remained undocumented due to the negligence of their families in not helping them obtain citizenship. There’s also been a failure of the U.S. government to acknowledge this issue. For example, Phillip Clay, a Korean adoptee fell into the hands of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in 2012 and ended up committing suicide in May. The factors that lead to this tragedy are the obvious reasons that equate deportation to death: separation from family and loved ones, the feelings of alienation from not knowing the language, and ultimately not receiving appropriate care for preexisting mental health concerns.

If there is a takeaway from all this, it’s that we need to organize together and have conversations across racial lines, because the deportation machine under this administration doesn’t care about immigrants, and it never will. This ugly truth needs to be met with an even bolder one. When united, immigrants and allies in OC will not go without a fight.

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