Immigration activist draws on personal experience, discusses reform


Katie Pach/The Daily Northwestern

Activist Ju Hong speaks at Annenberg Hall. Hong, who was once an undocumented immigrant, drew headlines in 2013 when he heckled President Barack Obama, calling on him to end deportations.

Mark Duanmu, Reporter

Activist Ju Hong led students on a “video tour” about immigration reform Tuesday, drawing on his personal experience as an undocumented immigrant.

Hong received attention in 2013 when he heckled President Obama during a speech in San Francisco, calling on Obama to stop deporting undocumented immigrants.

“I heard him talk about how much he loves spending time with Michelle and his kids, and it bothered me, because I was thinking about my family too,” Hong said. “I was thinking about my parents, who were at risk of deportation. I was thinking about my grandparents, and if I were ever going to see them again.”

More than 40 people attended the event, held at Annenberg Hall, which was planned and organized by the Immigrant Justice Project, a new student group that advocates for immigration reform. It was co-sponsored by the Asian American Studies Program.

Hong, a University of California Berkeley graduate, said he came to the United States from South Korea with his mother, who overstayed her tourist visa.

Hong was a beneficiary of DACA, a 2012 immigration policy that allowed certain undocumented children to obtain a two-year work visa and be exempt from deportation. He said the rest of his family, however, remains undocumented.

The “tour” began with two 25-minute documentaries, which were aimed to educate viewers about the plight of undocumented immigrants in the United States.

The first one followed 24-year-old Hong as he travelled back to Korea for the first time in 11 years. Hong was not allowed to leave the United States until 2012, when he was granted legal status under DACA. During the trip, he got the chance to see his grandmother one last time before she died. The second film followed a group of young activists known as “Dream Riders” as they campaigned for immigration reform across the country.

After the screenings, a panel of three speakers discussed the upcoming Supreme Court decision on a challenge to some of Obama’s executive orders on immigration, which deferred deportation for millions of undocumented immigrants.

“If the Supreme Court rules in favor of Obama’s policies, five million more people can live with some sense of stability and safety in the US,” said Yujin Maeng (Weinberg ’15), who works for a Chicago nonprofit focused on Korean-American youth. “We are doing this video tour to raise awareness and get you guys talking about this issue.”

Weinberg junior Hayeon Kim, one of the organizers of the event, told The Daily that IJP is a new student group, so the event was “a big milestone.”

Shaina Fuller (Communication ’14), who attended the event, said she took Asian American studies classes as an undergraduate, and it was interesting to learn about immigration in a different context.

“I usually hear about immigration reform in relation to Latino communities,” Fuller said. “So it was really eye-opening to learn about specific immigration policy in the context of the (Asian American and Pacific Islander) community.”

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