Equitable Immigration Laws and Policy

The United States is a nation of immigrants. Yet its immigration laws and policies have been rife with discrimination, preference for European immigrants, and arbitrariness. We recognize the significant improvements in the US immigration legal framework since the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965. However, there continue to be challenges with the immigration process, impacting Korean Americans.

Adoptee Citizenship 

KAA supports international adoptees who have been unjustly deprived of citizenship. We support legislation that would bring relief to tens of thousands of adoptees whose citizenship was not secured by their adoptive parents.

Some 35,000 international adoptees — half of whom are Korean — have grown to adulthood in America but still lack US citizenship, through no fault of their own. Their American parents, many of whom assumed that the adoption process automatically granted their children citizenship, did not formally complete the judicial process. Many of these adoptees discovered they were not US citizens only when they applied for jobs or schools. In some cases, adoptees were deported back to their country of origin, causing painful separations, trauma and even suicide.

A legislative fix in 2000 partially closed this loophole by automatically granting citizenship to many adoptees, but only for those under a certain age. This is why 35,000 adult adoptees are still in legal limbo with regard to their status.

KAA supports passage of the Adoptee Citizenship Act of 2018. This bipartisan bill is co-sponsored by Senators Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Representatives Christopher Smith (R-NJ) and Adam Smith (D-WA). It finally and completely closes the loophole for adoptees of all ages. It also has provisions for the return of certain adoptees who are now living outside of the US.

The Korean adoptee community, like many Korean Americans, are first-generation immigrants. They are therefore an integral part of our collective story. International adoptions effectively began with orphans of the Korean War through federal legislation. In 1955, Henry and Bertha Holt secured a special act of Congress enabling them to adopt eight orphans from South Korea.

Passage of the Adoptee Citizenship Act by Congress would be a bookend to this act. It would allow a generation Korean and other international adoptees to finally complete their journey to America — as citizens.

DACA/Dreamers 

Although KAA recognizes and respects the rule of law, including immigration laws and procedures, KAA supports Dreamers as a matter of humanitarian concern. For various reasons,  parents of Dreamers came to or stayed in the US out of status. They were either unable or tried and failed to secure legal status for their children. Though we do not condone these actions or inactions, KAA believes their children, who have integrated into and contribute to American society, should not be punished for their parents’ actions.

DACA, or Deferred Action for Early Childhood Arrivals, is a federal program that provides temporary, but renewable protection for young, undocumented immigrants from deportation.

Among the current 800,000 DACA beneficiaries, known as “Dreamers,” 20% come from Asia. The top country of origin from Asia is South Korea. In 2016, some 7,250 Korean Dreamers applied for DACA protection. An estimated 24,000 young, undocumented DACA-eligible Koreans did not apply. They are living “in the shadows,” vulnerable to deportation.

KAA acknowledges that immigration policy is a highly partisan and politicized issue. Our position on DACA, consistent with the recent federal court ruling, is that the program should be allowed to continue. KAA believes that law-abiding, young undocumented immigrants should be among the lowest priorities for immigration enforcement.

KAA also believes there should be a legislative solution that offers Dreamers who are productive members of society a path to citizenship. In 2017 the DREAM Act had strong bipartisan support, but failed in both chambers over political disagreement about other aspects of immigration reform that lawmakers linked to its passage. The fate of DACA, as a temporary fix, may lie with the Supreme Court. However, absent a path to citizenship, DACA will only provide Dreamers with protection from deportation for two years at a time, with no hope of legal status.

KAA believes the choices of their parents should not disqualify Dreamers from being protected from deportation, and that they should be given the opportunity to pursue a path to American citizenship.