Equity & Diversity

Undocumented Asian Youth Seek Higher Profile in Immigration Debate

By Lesli A. Maxwell — May 20, 2013 2 min read
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A group made up of undocumented Asian youths living in New York and other eastern states has launched a new social media campaign meant to push their stories into the public eye as the debate over immigration reform rages on in Washington.

The project, called Raise Our Story, features young Asian immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. They share their experiences as undocumented youths through photos and first-person essays that underscore the heavy toll that having no legal status exacts on them. Advocates for undocumented Asian youth—from countries as diverse as the Phillipines and South Korea—say their stories are less well-known than their undocumented peers who were brought from Mexico and Central and South American countries.

What’s clear from reading these narratives is how common it is for these undocumented youths to not even know about their precarious status as undocumented immigrants until they are preparing to do things they always assumed would be theirs to do: go to college, apply for financial aide, or get a job.

“I nearly broke under the weight of my undocumented status,” wrote Emily Seonhye Park, a resident of Queens in New York City who earned a private scholarship to pay for college, but has struggled since to find a job or a way to attend graduate school. “I lived in this invisible bubble, screaming inside: ‘Please, someone save me.’”

The narrative project was created by Revolutionizing Asian Immigrant Stories on the East Coast, or RAISE. The group receives support from the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, or AALDEF. In addition to social media, the stories are being featuredon Huffington Post.

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee today embarked on a third week of deliberations over the proposed immigration overhaul crafted by a bipartisan group of senators. The panel has been plowing through hundreds of proposed amendments. One amendment still to be considered would expand the bill’s version of the DREAM Act to “little DREAMers,” or those young children who were brought more recently to the U.S. illegally and can’t meet the measure’s conditions as currently written to be eligible for a speedier pathway to citizenship. The five-year path to citizenship would apply only to DREAMers who arrived as children but are now older than 16 and have either completed high school, earned a GED certificate, served in the military, or attended college for at least two years.

Photo: Neriel David Ponce, 18, of Staten Island, N.Y., came from the Phillipines at age 5. He didn’t learn he was undocumented until he was a sophomore in high school, a revelation that he says made attending school feel “pointless.”

Photo credit: Jill Damatac Futter for Raise Our Story.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.