(Yonhap Feature) Undocumented Korean immigrants in U.S. scared of possibly being deported
By Nam Sang-hyun and Kim Jong-woo
LOS ANGELES, Feb. 22 (Yonhap) -- Park Sang-ok, a consul responsible for immigration affairs at the South Korean Consulate General in Los Angeles, was inundated with telephone calls all day long on Friday.
Many Koreans who are not legally in the United States called him for inquiries, as they were becoming aware that the anti-immigration polices of U.S. President Donald Trump's administration were imminent and are scared of possibly being deported.
According to Park, the callers, including one from Boston, Massachusetts, were responding to the consulate general's posting of a notice about the U.S. administration's measures to toughen immigration polices and related information.
Advocacy groups supporting the rights of Korean immigrants, such as the Los Angeles-based Korean Resource Center (KRC), have been dealing with an increasing number of callers seeking more information about the administration's campaign to crack down on illegal immigration. The center, founded in 1983, was created to educate, serve and organize the Korean-American community in Los Angeles.
One of the officials at the KRC, Chung Sang-hyuk, said, "We received an average of 20 calls a day last week. There were calls from Ohio State and New York as well as Los Angeles."
The Korean-American community has been gripped by fear since the Trump administration on Tuesday announced new guidelines that could lead to more aggressive deportations of undocumented immigrants inside the country and at the border.
The guidelines, signed by Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, call for any undocumented immigrants to be deported if they are charged with minor offenses such as shoplifting or traffic violations. They marked a stark departure from the administration under President Barack Obama, which focused on deporting illegal immigrants charged with serious crimes such as murder.
According to data from the Center for Immigration Studies, a conservative non-profit research organization, the number of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. is estimated at 11 million. Out of the entire population, Koreans numbered 169,000 in 2014, down from 230,000 in 2011.
The new U.S. directives create an uncertain future for undocumented Korean immigrants who are concentrated in Korean communities in Los Angeles and New York and earn their living at jobs like substitute drivers and workers at restaurants.
Park at the KRC said, "An estimated 50,000 to 60,000 undocumented Korean immigrants reside in southern California, including Los Angeles, which is home to the largest Korean population in the U.S." It means about 10 percent of the 540,000 Koreans in the region are staying in the United States illegally.
Many callers to the South Korean mission and the advocacy group had police records of drunk driving, domestic violence or other minor offenses.
Even those Koreans who have permanent residency in the U.S. called the KRC "to make sure that there will be no problems for them to enter the U.S. after making a trip to South Korea," Chung said.
For the Korean community, the latest announcement of the guidelines is tantamount to the Trump administration's declaration of a widespread campaign to keep illegal immigrants out of the country.
On Feb. 9, U.S. immigration authorities rounded up about 680 immigrants in 11 states across the country after conducting simultaneous crackdowns involving raids of illegal immigrants' houses or workplaces.
Agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs take an undocumented immigrant to a patrol car in Los Angeles on Feb, 7, 2017, in this photo released by The Associated Press. (Yonhap)
During the crackdowns, a Korean illegal immigrant, 25, was apprehended by law enforcement officials when he was working at a company in southern California before being held in detention.
The Tuesday guidelines called for the hiring of 10,000 more U.S. Immigration and Customs (ICE) agents and 5,000 more U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents and the delegation of more power to them to arrest and detain undocumented immigrants.
A Korean-American in his 20s living in Georgia State said to Yonhap News Agency, "I have been fined for drunk driving in the past and my visa has expired. I am so worried about agents coming after me."
The shift in U.S. immigration polices has compelled first-generation Korean immigrants without proper papers to make a decision about returning home.
Compared with first-generation Korean immigrants, younger Korean immigrants have been more affected by the U.S. campaign, expressing fear over their possible deportation to the home country.
Against the backdrop, lawyers specializing in immigration law are cashing in on many Koreans' needs to obtain permanent residence rights and citizenships earlier.
A 49-year-old Korean resident near Los Angeles said on the condition of anonymity that he hurriedly applied for citizenship right after President Trump's inauguration. "But it remains to be seen whether I will get it in due time," he said.
May Korean groups supporting Korean immigrants have distributed to the Korean communities in major U.S. cities 7,000 sheets with guidelines detailing an action plan on how to deal with a situation in which they are in danger of being detained or deported.
A protester holds up a banner saying "Immigrants Make American Great" during a rally in Sherman, Texas, on Feb. 16, in this photo released by The Associated Press. (Yonhap)
The American Civil Liberties Union, an organization seeking to defend individual rights and liberties in the U.S., carries similar guidelines on its web site in English and Spanish.
The guidelines, titled "What to do if Immigration Agents are at Your Door," recommend that undocumented immigrants ask the agent what they are there for.
It also adds that if the agents want to enter, ask them if they have a warrant signed by a judge. If ICE agents do not have a warrant signed by a Judge, you can refuse to open the door or let them in.