By Brittney Le
AsAmNews Staff Writer
DACA recipient Eric Kwak teaches in an underserved community in West Side Chicago because of his experiences as an undocumented immigrant. However, his status remains up in the air, as the bipartisan spending agreement was passed Friday morning without a solid immigration bill, leaving undocumented immigrants in a limbo.
When he was 8 years old, Kwak came from South Korea to the U.S., where he grew up in Los Angeles Koreatown. “My parents wanted to come here because they wanted a better life for me and my brother,” Kwak told AsAmNews. “They always valued education as a tool for social mobility. They knew that education could maybe help me get out of being low income.”
“I think I’m very fortunate to be where I am right now,” said Kwak. The California DREAM Act and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) were passed while Kwak was still in school—he qualified for both programs. “The hardest thing for me growing up was just having this dark cloud over my head of never knowing how my future will play out because of my status as an undocumented immigrant.”
In December, Kwak was featured in a FWD.us video, which also began his involvement with the HANA Center. Kwak said that there were a lot of hateful comments left on the video about undocumented immigrants.
“The worst of it is that it comes from ignorance,” said Kwak. “A lot of them assume that undocumented immigrants like myself had a chance to get citizenship, but there was never a way, never a method, a pathway to citizenship for people like us.”
“I was more hopeful just after Trump ended DACA because there was a lot of support around the Dreamers.” He added that a lot of businesses and some of the polls around that time suggested that the DREAM Act was heavily favored. “I feel like momentum is losing ground. We haven’t really achieved anything in terms of negotiations.”
Current immigration discussions continue to leave the Democrats and Republicans in a stalemate, with even heavy proponents of protecting the Dreamers still uncertain about striking a deal anytime soon.
“I know Democrats are not in a position of power, so they will have to give up some of the inhumane immigration controls that the Republicans are asking for,” Kwak said, referring to the Republican Party’s desires to end family reunification and put up the wall at the border of Mexico. “I think the best course of action right now is to pass a DREAM Act giving some of that up, and then in November, when elections are going to happen again, Democrats take control.” He hopes that greater power in the hands of the Democrats will allow them to regain some of the immigration grounds that will be lost with a compromise.
“The best thing that I would want right now is to pass a clean DREAM Act without any of the demands that the White House is asking for,” said Kwak. “I know that the White House is using the DACA group as a bargaining chip.”
“I also think people, everyone right now these days is so polarized in terms of politics, so we need to try to understand each other more,” he added. “We’re not accomplishing anything if we continue to be divided.”
Some lawmakers, including Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), are suggesting that the debate will end in a temporary DACA extension with modest border security measures if Congress cannot come to a conclusion on broader immigration reform.
“For the current undocumented people that are going through this, we know we are in a difficult time right now and our future is uncertain, but I think morally this issue is on our side,” stated Kwak. “So I think they need to have hope that this issue will be solved, to not just give up and to continue to fight for yourself and to continue to tell your story, because your story is powerful.”
When asked how others can support Dreamers, Kwak stated that people can voice their support on social media in addition to joining actions. “Take action physically; come out to the rallies that are happening,” Kwak suggested. “It actually shows people through media that a lot of these people are serious about it, they’re willing to take action for it. The Republicans need to see how much support is around it.”
Currently a Head Start teacher, he attributes his current career choice of helping an underserved community to his experience as an undocumented immigrant. “My experience as an undocumented immigrant, my struggles, has helped me become a person who serves others.”
Speaking of undocumented immigrants, Kwak said, “They have a certain empathy and compassion for people because they understand the struggle and I think that’s another aspect that Dreamers bring that are not really out in the media.”
“I know what injustice feels like,” added Kwak. “So I know how some of the people in America feel—some of the minority groups, not just my race group—a lot of people in America are not living through an equal system.”
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