"Look at those illegals," my friend laughed, pointing at two Latino immigrants leaning against a fence nearby. I smiled and brushed it off, but inside, I was angry. I wondered what he would say if he knew that I'm also an "illegal."
I was born and raised in South Korea until I was 11. I remember the country facing an economic crisis; it affected our family to the point where we had to file for bankruptcy. The following year, my mom and my dad got a divorce.
In July 2001, my mom moved to the United States to seek a better life for my sister and me. I was 12 years old. But once we arrived here, we faced a different set of challenges because of our immigration status.
As a single parent, it was hard for my mom to raise my sister and me. She still works 12 hours a day, seven days a week, sacrificing her time and energy to support my education and to put food on the table every day. Almost every two months she has to look for a different job because of her immigration status. She often looks exhausted and overwhelmed after work.
Like my mom, my sister works full-time. Until recently, she also attended community college, but had to drop out because of financial difficulties. She had the chance to attend more prestigious colleges and universities. Instead, at age 24, she works two shifts at a restaurant, mopping floors and washing dishes, while her friends get to experience college life.
During my senior year in high school, I learned from my mom that our visas had expired and that I was now living here without documentation. So while my friends talked about which college to go to, I worried about whether or not I would even be able to go to college. Despite all my hard work in high school, I didn't have access to the educational opportunities that most people take for granted.
Being an Asian-American undocumented student, it was especially challenging to come out from the shadows, because of the cultural taboo and social discrimination in my own community. This isolation led to periods of depression.
Worst of all, I'm afraid of being deported, taken from the place I've called home for half my life. I have nightmares about ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agents knocking on the door to arrest my mom, sister, and me.
But despite all the challenges I face, I've never given up my hopes of achieving higher education and living my dreams like everybody else.
Today, I have a 3.8 GPA, and I'm currently the student body president at my community college. I work hard and push myself to show that anything is possible in this country, despite my undocumented status. I continue to push myself to be a role model to other people, especially in the Asian-American community. And I'm speaking up.
There are thousands of Asian-American undocumented students who are struggling to live a normal life just like me. I knew I couldn't just wait and hope for politicians to solve our problems. Despite the threat of deportation, it is crucial that our voices are heard. We need to fight for our dreams -- for our future. We cannot simply give up and we will not stay silent.
Ju Hong is an undocumented Korean American student. Learn more about him at JoinJu.com.
This account is taken from Voices of Immigration, a campaign of Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CCIR) aimed at highlighting the stories of immigrants in our country. Believing that every person is made in the image of God, we seek to restore the human element to the conversation around immigration reform. Each day this week a new story will be highlighted on God's Politics, with additional ones posted throughout March at CCIR's Web site: www.faithandimmigration.org.