Jessica Hyejin Lee, Sarah Kim, and the Dream Act (Podcast)

Tania Chairez and Jessica Hyejin Lee

Download the most recent podcast with Bryn Mawr College activists Jessica Hyejin Lee and Sarah Kim here, or hear it here:

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In the podcast, they talk about their immigration stories and the events that led to Jessica’s arrest during a protest this past Wednesday.

On Wednesday, March 14th, just four days ago, two undocumented immigrants, Tania Chairez, age 19 from the University of Pennsylvania, and Jessica Hyejin Lee age 20 from Bryn Mawr College, participated in an immigrant rights protest in front of the Philadelphia offices of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). They sat in the middle of the street and refused to move, declaring themselves, “undocumented, unapologetic, and unafraid.”

The two were arrested by the police and jailed overnight. They were released the following day, but according to the Daily Pennsylvanian, “They face charges of disorderly conduct and obstruction of highways. An arraignment has been scheduled for April 3.”

It was a great podcast, and I applaud both Jessica and Sarah for their courage in stepping forward. I don’t think there can be unrestrained immigration for national security reasons, as well as economic reasons–check out Ha Joon Chang, where he describes the 50-fold wage discrepancy between bus drivers in third world countries and America. As I mention on the podcast, I am a little uncomfortable with the Dream Act and mostly have not supported it (maybe partly because I don’t understand everything about it and haven’t yet put in the time to look into it), but I do think that there has to be something of a path for children who were raised here from a young age.  I do know some illegal immigrants, and I think it’s hard to expect people raised here in the U.S. to go “back” to countries that they’ve never really been part of. Perhaps there is a middle ground.

To learn more about Jessica and Sarah’s activism and how you can help, check out Check out Jessica’s video here:

(pic from here)

32 thoughts on “Jessica Hyejin Lee, Sarah Kim, and the Dream Act (Podcast)

  1. They should both be deported immediately.

    In general though I favor self-deportation, however. There is no need to round people up; impose hefty fines on employers and when illegal aliens are not able to find work they will go back to their homes. I thought the Left in America was supposed to be looking out for the working and middle classes, so, just how is this possible when they support measures which have the effect of driving down people’s wages through a tidal wave of unbridled human movement? The owners of corporations are the prime benefactors.

  2. I understand this issue is very sensitive.
    Just to point some things out, what Lee said in the interview was wrong. It is not only wealthy people can get visa. (You have to define the “wealthy”) If you were rich enough to come to US, you should have enough money to get some sort of visa. I understand the immigration system is broken. i understand that. but that does NOT mean undocumented immigrants are okay.

    Plus, other people who have a legal status yet are considered an alien in the US can’t get SSN either. (especially the kids of those parents who have these visas cannot get SSN either. which means they can’t work, they can’t get loans for college, and everything above.. just like undocumented ppl) and people i know in personal life have tried EVERYTHING, spent all MONEY, TIME, EFFORT, STRESS, prayers, and so much more TO STAY LEGAL.

    Lee, you can’t just blame the system only. and you should understand the whole idea of DREAM ACT. it’s not very fair for documented aliens to be seen “invisible” where as undocumented people are seen. don’t you think so? you should bring that point up.

  3. Funny when i saw the image i thought huh asian american female political activists? Then i realised that its that female nature of security and here it is again in the guise of ‘activism’. Whilst some asian americans want not to be seen as fobs, fobs just want to be american. what these girls are doing is selfishness ( undocumented) justified as activism.

    As far as legalism is, concerned re immigration its either you can or you cant, no point moaning about it.

    now if you those same girls were aa girls who were arrested for complaining about the way asian males are portrayed in the media, that would be different but that would probably never happen.

  4. @Fun…. I thought the Left in America looked out for ppl on welfare and entitlement programs. NOT the working and middle class.

    I doubt the owners of big corporations are the prime benefactors of undocumented ppl. I think you are over simplifying the issue.

  5. From the look of it those girls lived here pretty much all their lives. Deporting them is just wrong on so many levels.

    And why would you deport young people who lived here, speaks perfect English, is educated (or getting a good education), and looks to have a good future.

  6. Wow, I’m actually surprised by the reactions here–not necessarily in a bad way, but in an unexpected way. I thought most AA bloggers/commenters were pro-Dream Act. This is probably indicative of the unease that’s in my own mind.

    I agree with what Ei said–it’s not their fault that they’re here, and it would seem silly to penalize them by sending them to a country where they don’t speak the language (at least not as well) and aren’t part of the system. Korea is extremely rigid, as we’ve discussed before, and Mexico is a great country to live in…but only if your name is Carlos Slim (haha…I’m sure it’s not that bad, but it’s not a rich country). They’ve proven good moral character and have worked hard to get where they are. If they were to go “back” to their countries of birth, they would be far behind everyone else, even though they did well in the U.S.

    At the same time, I agree with simplicity. I’m a mortgage banker, so I have lots of clients who deal with immigration issues, working visas, and the like. It’s not easy, and it’s not cheap, even if you’re backed by a large, powerful company. I remember talking to one guy trying to extend a work visa. I spoke to his HR Department, and they said it was going to cost $3,000 just to extend it (which they said they were more than happy to pay)–that doesn’t even include the costs to bring him here. The question, which is the same question posed by Jin Ah Isokawa in the podcast, is this: Is it fair to expect some people to comply with the law and pay exorbitant fees on the path to citizenship while others simply ignore the law and get amnesty? I’m not comfortable with that.

    Another question is this: if you’re born in a foreign country, and you have dreams of someday immigrating to the U.S. and becoming an American, should that be a “right?”

    It’s a very dicey issue, very complex, and yes, very sensitive. I don’t know if there are easy answers.

  7. I also wanted to share some of the convo we had after the podcast: A friend of a friend was deported twice because he was undocumented. He was pretty much in the same situation: raised here from a young age and culturally had nothing to do with Mexico.

    Is it fair to penalize him for a situation he didn’t create?

    At the same time, is it fair that his parents can get citizenship for the entire family by simply not following the laws that others follow?

    It’s not easy!

    As for Jessica and Tania, I think we can probably all agree that they are productive people who should be on the road to citizenship. The question is how the law should be written going forward.

  8. It’s also hard because the government is complicit in a lot of immigration. Everyone KNOWS of restaurants that break the law with their hiring practices. But the government won’t crack down because it means a cheaper dining experience.

    Let’s think hypothetically.

    What if they had the Dream Act…but there was also a financial penalty to be paid by the adults who broke the law and created the situation, a reasonable penalty to defray the cost of immigration enforcement and the lost revenue from the legal route, as well as a penalty for breaking the law in the first place? This way the kids wouldn’t be punished, and there would still be a legal deterrent to illegally crossing.

    I think most of the resistance to the Dream Act comes from those who don’t see a legal deterrent. If that legal deterrent existed, it could become easier for these children.

  9. ‘if you’re born in a foreign country, and you have dreams of someday immigrating to the U.S. and becoming an American, should that be a “right?’

    It can be a dream and you if have means of working your way to it, then it can become a reality. but a ‘right’?

    if Jessica who doesnt sound FOBBISH at all, sounds american. how did she get to have that education? Constantly renewing a visa pushing for the day that she becomes legal? So then if every single immigrant from every single non-american country in the world gains automatic citizenship because they simply ‘want it’.. does that make it right?

    Okay, if you say so.

  10. I know immigrants who went through all legal channels and took years just get green cards and citizenship, so yes, it is damn unfair to the legal immigrants if the illegals get legalized easily. The question is it fair to those kids who grew up only knowing american if they get deported? I say yes, it is unfair, but that unfairness is caused by their own parents. The government doesn’t own them anything, and should have every right to deport them without being labeled the bad guys. It is their parents they have to blame. It’s like I break into your house while you are away for weeks, but I really like it, so I made myself at home, now I cannot imagine living anywhere else, so removing me is unfair and wrong on your part?

  11. First off these are women not girls. Girl = under 18.

    A reasonable solution would be if you are brought to this country say 15 or under and have been here for more than 3 years you can stay. This does not entitle parents to become legal if they came here illegally.

    Also America is not the only country to live in. In the podcast one of the women said her family came from South Korea on tourist visa and then stayed after it expired. They could have easily gone back to Korea. A rich and safe country.

    Under her rational why even have visas? She doesn’t want any rules for immigration. She thinks everyone in the world has a right to come to America.

    I personally understand immigration struggles. But I am also turned off by the sense of entitlement and dumb arguments SOME (not all) activists make.

  12. Pingback: The Bi-College News » Blog Archive » Undocumented, Unapologetic and Unafraid: Jessica Hyejin Lee BMC ’13 and Tania Chairez UPenn ’14 stand up for their community through civil disobedience.

  13. Lingyai,

    Good points!

    In the activists’ defense, I think for this to work, the law must be written in the language of rights, and I don’t fault these activists for using such language, although I wish they would define it better. In the U.S., if you simply say, “please don’t deport me,” you might get deported. But if you say, “It’s my human right to be here,” people tend to at least let you talk. So I don’t necessarily fault Dream Activists for using such language, although I do think it could be helpful for them to appeal to a more comprehensive definition of where their rights come from. If they can write it out by appealing to the basis of American law, they might be able to change the law and avoid the deadlock which seems almost permanent.

    The Dream Act is somewhat written according to what you recommend. If they come before a certain age and have been in this country for a certain amount of time, they would be eligible to stay. It’s not automatic citizenship, but they are eligible to work to stay. So I think we’re getting closer to understanding how best to structure this!


    ODC, I love the analogy about breaking into another person’s house. I think that’s a good way of thinking about it. And I would definitely apply that to the undocumented parents who knowingly break and disrespect America’s laws.

    HOWEVER, consider another apt analogy for the children. If you make money and stick it in a bank account, the law allows you to give it to your children. If you BORROW money and accrue debt, the law does NOT allow you to pass debt on to your children. I’m not sure why the law is structured that way (I don’t think that this is the case in all countries), but you can only pass on assets in the U.S., not liabilities. I don’t know if one has a “right” not to be given debt without cosigning on it, but maybe one does…what do you think?

    So based on this thinking, it might be wrong to pass on a burden created by a criminal act by parents. And if we believe this, and we believe that sending people “back” to countries where they don’t speak the language or know the culture is a liability for them, then we can justify preventing the passing burdens on to these 1.5 generation undocumented immigrants.

    The parents, as Lingyai said, are a whole different story. They knowingly broke the law, and I agree with Lingyai that there should be consequences to that, possibly including jail time and deportation.

    And I think that’s why I somewhat have been against the Dream Act–there’s no consequence for those who broke the law in the first place. Perhaps I and others would be okay with the Dream Act if it empowered the children while automatically triggering an investigation on those who broke the law and created the situation in the first place. As much as people have aspirations, they don’t have a right to break the law simply because they want to. Or maybe they have that right, but there should be repercussions.

    Now I think the argument has been made in other forums that people born in the U.S. are born with citizenship, and that they didn’t do anything to EARN it–we hear this argument at times when discussing the tests that naturalized citizens have to take. People say, “Why does an immigrant have to know who the third president was, while an American at birth can remain ignorant?” I’d argue it based on the same reasoning–it’s perfectly natural for a person to pass on assets, whether they be money, name recognition, or citizenship–to their children. Warren Buffett’s children inherit money that I don’t, and just because I didn’t get an inheritance doesn’t mean I have the right to demand that Buffett’s kids give me a piece of their action.

  14. “HOWEVER, consider another apt analogy for the children. If you make money and stick it in a bank account, the law allows you to give it to your children. If you BORROW money and accrue debt, the law does NOT allow you to pass debt on to your children.”

    Well, a true debt inheritance would mean that illegal resident who immigrated with their parents as juveniles would have to pay back all the money spent on their education, health care, and social services, wrongly taken advantage of.

    Not being automatically given citizenship, permanent resident status, and a free college education, not does not constitute “inheriting a debt.”

  15. The whole reason the Dream act has not been passed is it is a back door to legalize the parents.
    If the act prohibited parents from being legalized then it probably would have passed already.

    Jessica’s family also made it harder for other Korean families from visiting the US. Because her family came on a tourist visa and decided it was their right to stay. Those who plan to visit the US and then return will be looked with more suspicion

    She talks about privilege that she doesn’t have when the reality is her family by having money fly to the USA was more privileged then hundreds of millions who can’t afford a plane ticket or live Mexico/central or south America.

    The reality if there were no visa rules then we would have tens of millions of people arriving in the US with in months.

  16. Lingyai,

    Excellent points. I agree with everything you wrote in the comment above. And I don’t know if they’d ever do it, but Dream Activists could get Dream to pass if they had an investigation trigger that went after the parents who broke the law in the first place.

    I struggle because I have some Japanese friends who are trying to get citizenship. They work jobs that they hate because it’s a condition of the work visa, which is a condition of the process towards citizenship. They or their companies pay tens of thousands of dollars, not just to immigration, but also in hiring lawyers. They opt to follow the law, even though it’s a pain in the rear. You’re totally right about the visa laws–if they didn’t exist, everyone and his mother would come.

    As Chris Rock said in that great movie where he runs for President, “It ain’t right.”

    I’m okay giving amnesty to people who were brought here by their parents as kids and have been here for a while and have demonstrated good character. After thinking it through and talking to you guys, I’m not okay with giving lawbreaking parents such leeway. That, to me, is where the wrong-ness exists in this whole thing.


    Stop poking holes in my logic. 🙂

    No, you’re totally right. I was thinking this–that if a parent pulled a child of Mexican or Korean nationality and put them in a school where they were “deprived” of adequate training in Spanish or Korean and could no longer go back because of that lack of education, that was almost like a debt that the parent had incurred. Of course though, you’re right–if a parent took something that didn’t belong to them and gave it to a child, normally that wouldn’t be something the child ought to keep.

    I’m still working on the whole “rights” thing. Maybe it’s not an issue of human rights, but simply an issue of rights defined by law. Another interesting question is amnesty. It wouldn’t necessarily be amnesty since the child didn’t commit a crime. It would be a privilege.

    I need to reiterate that this all surprises me. Every Asian blog I’ve seen supports Dream. After this discussion and commentary, I support the children part of Dream, but I think there needs to be repercussions for the people who broke the law as adults. It’s only fair, and it really is crucial for national security.

  17. Your debt analogy makes some sense, but I think breaking into someone’s house is a more direct one. Expanding that analogy: if I broke into your house WITH my toddlers while you away on a long trip, and my toddlers grew so comfortable there that they would be worse off living anywhere else, would you let them stay in your house? Would you enact a rule that if they serve/clean your house for two years, they get to stay there indefinitely? I think it is too unfair to other kids whose immigrant parents did go through everything legally.

  18. There are fewer topics more hideously boring than immigration issues.

    But in terms of it being a threat to middle-class jobs by “driving down wages”, I think global wage arbitration, aka offshore outsourcing, is a much greater threat.

    For those who complain that illegals are wrongly benefiting from free schooling, healthcare, and other benefits, this is small change compared to pointless wars that are a much bigger drain on the national blood and treasure.

    Those who are eager to kick out the estimated 10-20 million children who find themselves illegal through no fault of their own and forgetting the fact that entitlements such as Social Security depends on having a net positive growth of tax-paying workers coming into the labor pool and if it weren’t for immigration, the US would have a demographic profile that plagues every other developed nation, shrinking younger workers and increasing older people who are more dependent on retirement and healthcare entitlements.

    But the middle-class is shrinking. America is rapidly becoming a place where opportunity is becoming farther and fewer in between. These girls, for all their activism and protest, may have to go back to Korea anyway to teach Engrish or something because there are no decent jobs for recent college grads.

  19. “But in terms of it being a threat to middle-class jobs by “driving down wages”, I think global wage arbitration, aka offshore outsourcing, is a much greater threat.”

    This really depends on where you live and what industry you’re working in. Illegal immigration has very pointed effects on certain middle-class jobs in certain regions and industries.

    “Those who are eager to kick out the estimated 10-20 million children who find themselves illegal through no fault of their own and forgetting the fact that entitlements such as Social Security depends on having a net positive growth of tax-paying workers coming into the labor pool and if it weren’t for immigration.”

    I think everyone knows (deep down) that it’s not a question of hunting people down and kicking them out, but neither can we simply declare that anyone who brings their kids over the US borders illegally has a faster track to becoming citizens than those in the long legal line to get in. As for SS and net positive growth, There is no problem filling that grown target with LEGAL immigrants from all over the world.

    You cannot have any kind of reasonable immigration policy based on “whoever could sneak in and stay long enough.” No matter how you do immigration there are going to be some people who want to be here who will find themselves outside looking in. Should those be the legal people or the ones who did it illegally?

  20. @Kobukson
    “if it weren’t for immigration, the US would have a demographic profile that plagues every other developed nation, ”

    Nobody (at least most are not) saying no immigration. They are saying we should be able to decide who comes to the country. Also there are benefits to a stable population. So often this straw man argument is used in news articles saying anti immigration this anti immigration that when it is anti illegal immigration. Big difference

    The current policy Jessica favors actually hurts Asians. Right now it is easier for people from mexico and countries that are to the South (and close) to enter illegally. If they get caught they are just sent back to their close by home land. Asians have an ocean and visa hurdles to go through to actually touch American soil. If we severely illigal immigration and then had a expanded immigration then it would more likely favor Asians and South Asians.

    Also the whole point is most illegal immigrants don’t take the jobs of middle class people. That is why newspapers and magazines are generally pro illegal immigration. Because the writers are not going to lose their job to an person here illegally (except maybe that one writer who came out a while ago). Who it does hurt is those who have less education and skills. This is undeniable.

    I am pro immigration and anti kicking kids out. I am also for us having the right who decide who comes here. Jessica by her statements doesn’t think that we should have the right to decide who gets to stay here.

  21. ODC:

    Sure, but it also depends on the size of my house. I’ve got a small number of bathrooms and limited square footage in my house, and it would be hard for me to add even one other person.

    But if my house were 3.79 million square miles, I could probably afford to assimilate some kids who are leading productive lives. As this conversation progresses, I’m finding it harder and harder to describe this assimilation as a “right,” but I do think a wealthy nation ought to consider extending a path to such kids. If we gave them this “right,” it would become a right, but it would be a right based on civil law rather than human law. I still struggle with the “human rights,” argument, although I could see that as an issue for political exiles.

    I agree with King and Lingyai. It’s not so much an issue with immigration–immigration can be good. It’s a matter of legal immigration and having some control over the flow of people who could enter. I’ve heard complaints that the application for citizenship is onerous, but I think it SHOULD be onerous. After all, you’re giving people the right to vote for our government and live on American soil! If we opened the border, EVERYONE would want to come in, including freeloaders and Al-Quaeda. It wouldn’t be good.

    I think I’m with Lingyai on the actual Dream Act. I would support it–if there were some provision that initiated some kind of investigation into who broke the law to create the situation. There needs to be some kind of disincentive for breaking the law.

    Actually, now that I’m thinking more about it, I’m totally against the “rights” argument, although I understand the claim. Unless there’s a life or death situation that could come about from repatriation, I think it’s a dangerous precedent to say that an illegal immigrant has a right to be here. But I do think that one could make the argument that there is some humanity to be gained by amnesty. I see no reason to deport people who came here as children and have led good lives.

  22. Let’s put this in “rights” terms.

    Human rights are rights granted by “NATURAL LAW”–include life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. (I’m sure some dead white guy during the Enlightenment probably said a little more about this.)

    Outside of human rights, there are civil rights–rights granted by GOVERNMENT. Your right to vote, for example, is something that GOVERNMENT gives you. Children of Chinese maternity tourists, for example, are citizens, and therefore have the right to vote. These votes can be taken away in some cases–felons, for example, but they are government granted rights. Is it fair? To a certain extent, it may not matter–it’s just the way it’s done.

    Unless a government is repressive, it’s a hard argument. Being in Mexico, for example, will hardly kill you (life), take away your freedom of movement or expression (liberty), or kill your happiness (there are lots of happy people in Mexico, as well as in South Korea). So it’s not a human right.

    I think it’s hard to argue any problem without going to the root of it all, and when we do that, the root is the action of breaking American laws. It is possible to grant the path to citizenship as a right–but it’s a dangerous precedent to make amends for the result (children) without addressing the cause (parents who broke the law).

  23. A friend called me a few days ago. He agreed that it’s hard to make the argument that someone in Jessica’s situation HAS a right, but it’s good to argue that she SHOULD have the right to be here.

    Correction to the above: “civil” rights should be “legal” rights. I think she should have the LEGAL right to be here, but of course, I think there needs to be a provision or disincentive for adults coming here or staying here without proper registration.

  24. I think this Act will encourage more people from Asia to over stay their Visa and become undocumented. May be this is a good way to increase our population:)

  25. @ChineseMom thats one way of putting it, but then may as well throw the lawbook out the window. america is built on the blood of red indians from white english colonisers, not sure what the rules back then were

  26. @trolldetector,
    I agree with you. If this Act become a law, it will be unfair to those who paid high price(long waiting, taking low wage job, expensive lawyer fee, etc.) to immigrate to this country legally, it will only encourage people to ignore the law.

  27. On the other hand, it’s impossible to inflict punishment upon the parents without it affecting their children in some way. And if the punishment is too lenient, it will lose its purpose.

  28. Saying punishing the parents will effect the kids could be said for almost any punishment for any crime.

  29. Lingyai- I agree with you. I believe that punishments should be sufficiently harsh so it can deter. However, I think perhaps we are going after the wrong people? We should come down on the businesses that exploit these workers.

  30. Obama isn’t going after students. This is why Jessica was arrested after she blocked the road not for being “illegal”.
    The most simple thing to do would be enact e-verify. So that before hiring employers would have to check if the person was legal. BUT some activists don’t want e-verify as they know it would work. They don’t actually want to solve the problem.

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