March 10th was National Coming Out of the Shadows Day, which the Immigrant Youth Justice League describes as the day when “undocumented immigrant youth along with our allies publicly def[y] fear and criminalization without shame by declaring to be ‘undocumented, unafraid, and unapologetic’ in the pursuit of equal rights and immigration reform.”
Undocumented immigration among the APIA community is usually not really talked about – which is what led Jessica Hyejin Lee to tell her story in a video that begins, “My name is Jessica Hyejin Lee. If you’re watching this, I have been arrested.”
She and another student, Tania Chairez, had been participating in a civil disobedience action in Philadelphia on March 14th, to demand that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) stop separating families through deportation. They were released the next day, but still face court next month.
As she shares in the video, Jessica and her family moved to the US from South Korea when she was 12.
I think that in the Asian American community, people tend to keep silent about undocumented status, and people don’t think much about what it’s like to be undocumented, or what undocumented even means… It’s just so important for me to show the undocumented community that it’s okay to come out and be the leader of our fight for civil rights and human rights in this country.
I really respect her for her courage – because obviously, it takes a lot to risk deportation. I’m glad that the undocumented students’ movement is going strong, but for those who aren’t students, or for those who weren’t minors when they arrived in the US, coming out as undocumented still might not really be an option. For example, for the women who Elton Lugay’s recent article in The FilAm magazine focuses on. The article talks about the difficulties that face some of the undocumented Filipina transgender women who support themselves through sex work. It cites a study titled Behind Closed Doors: An Analysis of Indoor Sex Work in New York City: “Sex workers live under the daily threat of arrest, deportation, and violence. These dangers are compounded by the stigma, isolation, and invisibility associated with their work.”
I know undocumented immigration is a controversial topic, but these are their stories. And this is just me putting it out there.
[Photo credit: Philadelphia Inquirer]