Last month, in a politically motivated decision, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the decade-old Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program unlawful, sending the case before it back to a lower court in Texas for review and putting my future in jeopardy. I am one of the hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients — Dreamers — many Republicans want to separate from their families, communities and homes.
I have called the United States my home for 21 years. I arrived from South Korea when I was just 6-years-old. I grew up in the suburbs of Maryland. It was only just before my 16th birthday when, desperate for the first taste of independence that comes with a driver’s license, that I found out that I wasn’t like the other kids at my school. It wasn’t just that we spoke Korean at home; I am undocumented, with no a pathway to make my citizenship official.
This revelation explained so much: why we haven’t been back to South Korea to see grandma; why we didn’t have health insurance; why my parents felt so concerned for the future despite how hard they worked. The reality was now clear, and it was devastating. It felt like a rug had been pulled out from under me.
Out the window was the freedom of a driver’s license, but also, my college prospects and my career options. Then there was the simple pain of just knowing I’m different from my peers. But worst of all was the ever-present fear of deportation that became my daily reality. All of it made me feel ashamed to the point that I wanted to hide the fact that I am an immigrant. I felt powerless because it was not my decision to come to the U.S. or my decision to be undocumented.
But over the past decade, I have begun to understand why my parents made the extremely difficult decision to leave everything they knew to move across the world. In short, they were true believers in the American dream that this land of immigrants could be their home and their future.
I felt a little bit of that when I received DACA at age 17 in 2012. It allowed me to get my driver’s license, to have a job, to go to University of Maryland, and to support my family. With DACA, I finally was able to be closer to my American dream, but it is constantly being threatened by Republicans trying to end DACA.
I have heard the tired but still devastating refrain that I should “just go back to where I came from.” But the truth is, the United States, not South Korea, is my home. America is all I know. I am American in all but the paperwork. Despite the proven successes of DACA, some politicians would still force me from my home and uproot me to a place I do not know. All of this because of a broken, outdated immigration system that has not been updated since before I was born, and continued Republican refusals to pass legislation resolving the status of people like me.
Right-wing politicians’ incessant attempts to eliminate the DACA program are a constant reminder that, though I am Korean American, I will never be American enough for them. To them, I am a permanent foreigner, even though some of my earliest memories are driving over the Bay Bridge with my family every summer for Blue Crabs doused in Old Bay and fishing at the Chesapeake Bay.
But as tough and lonely as it can be to be undocumented, I remind myself that most Americans agree with me that we need to reform our outdated immigration laws, including creating a path to permanent legal status for DACA recipients like myself. Nor am I alone in my status. There are over 7,000 DACA recipients living, going to school and working in Maryland, and over 6,000 Korean American DACA recipients like me nationwide.
I want to be a United States citizen. If Congress created a process where I could adjust my status, I would be the first in line. Congress can and must act so that my family — and your undocumented neighbors’ futures — are no longer in a permanent state of limbo and fear. And they should act now before the year is up.
Yuna Oh (email@example.com) is a political associate for America’s Voice, which advocates for freedom and opportunity for immigrants in America.