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Young, undocumented Koreans in US at risk of deportation

Up to 10,000 young South Koreans illegally residing in the United States are at risk of being deported after US President Donald Trump issued an order to scrap a scheme that has protected young undocumented migrants from deportation.

Korean immigrants groups in the US have expressed their concerns and regret after the Trump administration on Tuesday rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, in a move that could affect some 800,000 beneficiaries in the country.

“Koreans here appear to stay relatively calm. I am not saying they were not surprised, but they have prepared themselves for the possible scrapping of DACA, as it has been widely expected under the Trump administration,” a Korean immigrant based in the US told The Korea Herald, declining to be named.

“Even if their DACA expires, it is not likely they will be immediately deported because it takes a long process to deport those who have no criminal records,” she said. 

President Trump scrapped DACA, calling the program enacted under previous President Barack Obama in 2012 “unconstitutional.” In a statement, he said he did not “favor punishing children, most of whom are now adults, for the actions of their parents. But we must also recognize that we are nation of opportunity because we are a nation of laws.”

The “Dreamers” scheme enabled young migrants who were brought to the US illegally as children to apply for work and study without fear of deportation.

According to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, the number of beneficiaries of DACA was 1.54 million as of March, with some 80 percent of them from Mexico. South Koreans were the sixth biggest group of beneficiaries, totaling 17,625.

Another Korean immigrant, who has lived in Chicago for more than five years, said that the scrapping of DACA has a limited impact on Koreans in general, because most of the unregistered immigrants in the US are not subject to the scheme.

“I don’t think Koreans are greatly affected. Because many unregistered Koreans here do not qualify for DACA in the first place,” said Simon Yang, 33, who said he has a few friends granted DACA.

To qualify for DACA, applications should be under the age of 30, have a clean criminal record, and either be in school or have recently graduated. In return, the US government allowed them a temporary immigration status to stay in the US for a period of two years, which was extendable.

“I personally think that those who will stay in the US illegally will do so and those who will return to Korea will do so, regardless of the lifting of DACA,” yang said.

While existing recipients will not be affected for at least six months, the period of time allocated for the US Congress to deliver on legislative solutions, no new applications can be made. People holding DACA status will be able to keep it until it expires and people whose permits expire in less than six months can renew it before Oct. 1 for another two years.

Politicians, civic organizations and business executives including Obama, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Apple CEO Tim Cook slammed Trump’s move.

In a lengthy post on Facebook, Obama blasted the decision, saying “To target these young people is wrong -- because they have done nothing wrong. Ultimately, this is about basic decency.”

“We are so much more than a country that defines our neighbors by who they are on paper. The Korean American Coalition will continue to stand with our Dreamers and work with community partners to advocate on their behalf,” said Joon Bang, Korean American Coalition executive director.

“Members of the House (of Representatives) and Senate have the opportunity now to act with urgency and pass legislation to support DACA recipients.”

It is now up to the US Congress to decide whether to safeguard DACA recipients. Several proposals have been put forward, including the Bridge Act, a bipartisan bill with 25 co-sponsors that would extend DACA protections for three years to give the US Congress time to enact legislation.