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Immigrant Roots: Ahram Kim

 My name is Ahram Kim and I am 23 years old. I was born in Korea in 1992, and moved to New York at the age of 9 with my parents and older brother. We moved for the same reason many immigrants leave their country: to find better educational and financial opportunities. We originally came with a tourist visa and although my father tried to change our status, after 6 months we became undocumented when our visas expired.

We stayed in New York City for a year and a half before relocating to Las Vegas, where my aunt lived. Growing up in Las Vegas while undocumented was really hard. My family and I didn’t have access to resources and didn’t have anything to fall back on; there wasn’t a community we really belonged to. Back in Korea, my dad was an architect and my mom was a housewife. Once we moved to the States, both of my parents’ lives dramatically changed. My dad took a lot of random jobs, from cleaning buildings to working at delis and laundromats, while my mom started working 12 hour days at a nail salon, 6 days a week. She became the breadwinner of the family and I now look back and admire her work ethic, especially when I think about how difficult it must have been to change her lifestyle so drastically. It was heartbreaking for my brother and I to see our parents go through this; going from being respected and happy in their livelihoods to working solely to survive.

We lived in Las Vegas for about 7 years. During that time, my mom moved back to New York, my parents got a divorce, and my dad got remarried to an American citizen. Since I was under 18 when he became a citizen, I also received my citizenship through the process, but as my brother was older and over the legal age, he did not qualify. He remained undocumented but eventually became a recipient of DACA. I’ve done a lot of reflecting lately on my time as an undocumented immigrant, and I remember the fear we constantly lived with. We never drove on the highway in order to avoid accidents and possible police interaction. My dad never came to my school to meet with my teachers because of the language barrier and fear of our status being discovered.

One particularly painful memory, when I was 11 or 12, was when my mom had gone grocery shopping alone and got hit by a car in the parking lot. The driver was panicked and wanted to call an ambulance, but when my dad and I arrived we told him it was ok, that we would take her home and she was going to be fine. I remember exactly what she was wearing, her hairstyle, and how she was sitting on the ground. She clearly needed to go to the hospital but we couldn’t say she needed medical assistance; we were too scared that any type of help would release our information and get us deported. Being undocumented can be psychologically traumatizing— having no access to basic rights can invalidate your identity and existence, and create a feeling of not belonging to the very place your family worked so hard to move to.

When I was 16, I moved back to New York, finished high school on Long Island, and went to NYU where I majored in Politics and Spanish. I’m now working at the MinKwon Center for Community Action as a community organizer. As someone who grew up undocumented for 8 years, I can relate to the situations of our clients who come in looking for resources due to their status. The MinKwon Center for Community Action is a safe space where those who are undocumented can be unafraid, unashamed, and unapologetic.

My experiences have really shaped the way I do my work and has made me resilient in the face of adversity. My work stems from my belief that migration is a human right. This immigration system is broken, and we need to continue working together to decriminalize our families, because no human being is illegal. Everyone should be granted respect and dignity no matter where they come from, and I believe that in order to create meaningful immigration reform, the country as a whole needs to reflect on what it means to be inclusive and free.

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