Hilary Yoon is the student body president at Evergreen High School. She will be the Class of 2022’s valedictorian. This week, she’s leading the girl’s golf team into the league tournament.
And she’s facing the very real possibility that when she finishes her college education, she will no longer be welcome in the U.S.
But this isn’t one of those stories about children who were brought to this country without proper documentation and now must face the consequences. Ironically, if she had been, there’d be a path for her under the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and the proposed Dream Act.
There’s no such pathway for Yoon, 18, who was born in South Korea. She came here legally, with her parents, when she was 10 months old, and has lived here ever since. Her parents own and operate a sandwich shop, and hold E-2 Investor visas, which allow entrepreneurs to stay in the U.S., but not their children once they reach age 21. Her story was detailed in Saturday’s Columbian by sports reporter Meg Wochnick.
Yoon is one of an estimated 200,000 children who are called Documented Dreamers, according to Improve the Dream, a group lobbying for Congress to recognize the plight of these children and provide a path to citizenship.
“Many Americans are not aware that it is possible for an immigrant child to grow up in the United States with a documented status, but still have no clear path to citizenship,” according to Improve the Dream’s website, which prominently features Yoon and her story.
It’s a terrible system, one that is set up to deport intelligent, creative and ambitious young people just as they are poised to make significant contributions to our nation. That’s why Improve the Dream is lobbying for Congress to pass a bill called the America’s Children Act.
Introduced in both the House and Senate, the act is co-sponsored by liberal Democrats such as Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., and conservatives such as Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. (Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, is not a co-sponsor.)
According to Congress’ official website, the act would grant permanent resident status to adults who were lawfully admitted into the U.S. as a dependent child, have lived here for at least four years, have graduated from college and are not subject to being deported for other reasons.
Both versions of the act were introduced last year and are awaiting action by their respective judiciary committees. These committees should actively consider and pass these bills. Congress should also examine and fix the root causes that prevent long-term documented U.S. residents from obtaining citizenship. To do otherwise would be a tragedy. It’s already too late for the Yoon family, where Hilary’s brother, Tim, had to return to South Korea after he turned 21 and his visa expired.
Here is what Yoon says on Improve the Dream’s website:
“Due to the lack of pathways to citizenship, I am still a Korean citizen even though I have never left the U.S. since moving here almost 17 years ago. America is all I’ve ever known — I’m more comfortable speaking English than Korean, and because I was so young when I left Korea, I don’t remember a single thing about the country.…
“I feel American and I grew up just like my American friends around me. I only wish that I could also have the same opportunities as them.”
The America’s Children Act would benefit both young people like Hilary Yoon and the United States. Congress should pass it.