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Xenophobic attacks target naturalized lawmaker-elect

The internet was abuzz last week with debates over criticism of Lee Jasmine, the first naturalized Korean lawmaker-elect.

She has won a seat in the next National Assembly as a proportional representative of the ruling Saenuri Party, which won 152 seats in the parliamentary elections last Wednesday.

Criticism ranged from slander targeting her ethnic background to how Lee, secretary-general of non-profit organization Sharing Water Drops, was not fit to be a lawmaker.

As disparaging blog and Twitter posts surged, responses followed that such actions were defamatory and xenophobic.

Lee Jasmine

Lee Jasmine

Lee, 35, naturalized from the Philippines, won a parliamentary seat as part of Saenuri’s efforts to implement policies for multicultural families.

Upon her win, posts on an internet cafe against multicultural polices as well as Twitter mentions claimed that her win and Saenuri’s support of multicultural families would aggravate problems associated with undocumented foreign workers and international marriage brokerages.

Some postings also claimed that Lee pledged free medical services for illegal immigrants, scholarships for foreign students and special routes of college admission for children of international marriages.

“It makes me wonder if (Lee) is a lawmaker of Korea or whether she is a ring leader of illegal immigrants,” one posting said.

As defamatory comments continued, progressive figures also began to lambaste the phenomenon.

“There has been some racially discriminatory denunciation going around Saenuri proportional representative Lee Jasmine. Although criticism of her political inclination and qualification may be necessary, racism cannot be allowed,” Seoul National University law professor Cho Gook said on his Twitter account on April 13.

Lee moved into spotlight when she was picked as Saenuri’s 15th proportional representative candidate for the 19th National Assembly.

Naturalized in 1998 after marrying her late Korean husband in 1995, Lee has been socially active as the first naturalized Korean official working at the Seoul Metropolitan Government. Lee also starred in a recent local movie “Wandeuki” that drew 5.3 million viewers.

Discrimination against foreign nationals has been a subject of debate in traditionally and racially homogenous Korea, as the population of immigrants rose in recent decades.

According to the Justice Ministry, the number of foreign nationals registered as residents reached 1.1 million as of 2010. The number of naturalized Koreans surpassed 100,000 in the same year. Presently, marriage immigrants number around 210,000 and their children 150,000.

The ministry says that the number of foreign nationals residing in Korea began to increase in 1993 through industrial training programs.

By Lee Joo-hee (