Commentary

Give us a path to citizenship

May 11, 2021 12:18 am

The U.S. Capitol on December 18, 2019 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

By Sun Hee Choi

On Mother’s Day, I took Sunday off because my daughter wanted me to go to her college graduation. I felt pride when I saw her in a cap and gown. But because of my undocumented status, I cannot relax.

I have been living in the U.S. for almost 17 years. As a single mother of three kids in a mixed-status family (some have documentation and others don’t), I have had no choice but to work constantly since my divorce. Eating and surviving at the most basic level as humans were all we could focus on. As a parent, I want to make sure my kids have food and clothes. But I feel guilty for not having the time to take my kids to school or volunteer at school activities. There’s little time for leisure or play. We cannot enjoy life as much as we can because we are just trying to survive.  

Before this year, I could not apply for a driver’s license because of my undocumented status in Virginia. That meant my job prospects were limited by whether I could walk to the job site or if they could provide transportation.

During the week, I’m babysitting or working at a restaurant as a server. On the weekend, I work long hours in front of a hot stove making hoddeuk (Korean pancakes) at H-Mart. After five years of juggling three jobs, I found a new alternative that would be less grueling. However, I was fired within the first five days of training.

The reason was that I could not obtain a hygiene permit due to my undocumented status. Both as a single mother and an undocumented immigrant, I don’t have much of a choice other than a punishing work schedule — one that denies me of my ability to take care of my mind and body and spend quality time with my children. There is nothing more devastating than to face the fact that I am running out of options.

Despite the day-to-day obstacles we face, 11 million other undocumented immigrants and I help make this country run smoothly. I’ve been contributing to the U.S. economy for almost 17 years. I’m asking U.S. Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner to publicly support a path to citizenship for undocumented workers through the possibility of the budget reconciliation process.

With DACA, my kids have obtained the most basic right to be able to live in the U.S. with deferred deportation. However, the folks who act as their guardians and provide the essential necessities in life are their parents. I long to do what every other parent desires: to provide my children with a life of opportunity, possibility and independence. But these dreams are always interrupted by my undocumented status. Even as I work and care as fiercely as I do for the children, my undocumented status has hurt all members of my family.

With no credit history or social security number, it’s difficult for me to find apartments to rent. My children and I moved many times. They’ve had to switch schools so many times. Landlords wanted a higher deposit because of my status. I barely make enough to cover everything we need. If I lose even one of these three jobs, we are under even more strain, and it’s hard to find a new one because of my status.

DACA was a great first step in recognizing our humanity and contributions. But it is not enough. Children, as well as the parents, must have the right to survive in this land. Please remember that the adults who raise our DREAMer children are people like me, the parents. I wish to raise mine, just the same way you get to raise your own children. 

With the upcoming jobs and recovery package, people like me — undocumented moms and essential workers — face a rare opportunity for a pathway to citizenship. Sen. Warner and Sen. Kaine can either publicly commit to include citizenship in the second budget reconciliation process or watch 275,000 undocumented Virginians be left behind again. I need a path to citizenship to keep taking care of my family. 

Sun Hee Choi organizes and advocates with NAKASEC (National Korean American Service & Education Consortium) Virginia. She lives in Fairfax County.

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