U.S. President Donald J. Trump on Tuesday announced the most inhumane decision of his administration to date. After weeks of media reports, Mr. Trump ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which grants undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children (often called Dreamers) a reprieve from deportation and authorizes them to work legally and attend college.
Mr. Trump’s decision directly impacts nearly 800,000 young immigrants who are gainfully employed, attend college or graduate school, and have no criminal records. They now face the threat of deportation to foreign countries that are no more their home than South Korea is mine.
I immigrated with my parents from Korea at the tender age of three, but unlike DACA recipients, I had the fortune of entering the country through a visa granted to my mother, who was trained as a nurse. I became a U.S. citizen at the age of 15, but prior to that I did not even know that I was not an American citizen until a high school exchange program took me to France, and I produced a Korean passport, unlike my peers who held American ones. Despite my Korean passport, I felt American. I grew up in this country and went to school here. Today, I work as a professor who has the privilege and responsibility of educating others, including DACA students who hail from many countries.
DACA is often associated with Hispanic immigrants, but about 130,000 of the 800,000 recipients are Asian. We rarely think of DACA recipients as Asian because the face of undocumented immigrants is Hispanic, and we consider undocumented immigration an issue that affects “other” immigrants and communities. But one in seven Asian immigrants is undocumented. Asian undocumented immigrants come from India, China, the Philippines, South Korea, Vietnam, Pakistan, and other Asian countries, numbering about 1.6 million in total.
Mr. Trump and his administration have vilified undocumented immigrants — including those who arrived as children — as criminals and undeserving leeches who fail to contribute to our society. But a recent national study showed that 91 percent of DACA recipients are employed, and 45 percent are in school. Of those in school, 71 percent are working toward a college degree or higher. In fact, they are more likely to be employed, more likely to pay taxes, and more likely to pursue a college education than the average American.
If one defines American by our grit, tenacity, and our willingness to work hard and sacrifice in order to pursue a better life for ourselves and our families, then DACA recipients are quintessentially American. They work hard to make our country great, despite how harshly and callously our president chooses to treat them.
When I put myself in the shoes of those who trusted our government and registered for DACA, I imagine the fear, insecurity, and uncertainty that they must now feel at the prospect of being deported to countries that are not theirs. As an immigrant who arrived in this country as a child, I would be lost if I were deported to South Korea. I do not speak Korean, would be unable to work as a professor there and would have extreme difficulty returning to a society that is utterly foreign to me. I would change from being an independent, productive member of American society to a dependent outsider in my country of birth.
Yet this is the fate that Mr. Trump seals for many young adults who arrived in this country as infants and young children. In the eyes of the current administration, they are undocumented and do not belong here, despite how much they contribute to our country.
One of our most revered presidents, Franklin D. Roosevelt, once stated: “Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel in order to be tough.”
Mr. Trump announced the cruelest decision of his administration in order to appear tough. Our reprieve is that Mr. Trump will allow a six-month delay to allow Congress to respond before terminating DACA. Congress has six months to show human kindness, and to prove to President Trump, his administration, and to all Americans that kindness will strengthen rather than weaken us.Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post.