As an immigration attorney practicing in Los Angeles, I was so encouraged to hear about Jin Kyu Park, this past November.
Mr. Park is one of two seniors at Harvard University (class of 2019) to win the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship, which pays tuition and living expenses for up to three years of postgraduate study at Oxford University in England.
This awesome achievement is even more significant because Mr. Park is the first beneficiary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) to be so honored, in United States history.
On June 15, 2012, through executive order, President Obama established DACA to protect eligible immigrant youth from deportation. Seen by many pundits at the time as a temporary solution to address immigration reform, DACA granted legal status to the children of undocumented immigrants (aka: Dreamers), based on a two-year renewal process, and per the following eligibility requirements:
· Applicant was under 31 years old as of June 15, 2012;
· Applicant was under 16 years old before arrival to the United States before birthday;
· Applicant has lived continuously in the United States from June 15, 2007 until the present;
· Applicant was physically present in the United States on June 15, 2012 and at the time of application;
· Applicant came to the United States without documents before June 15, 2012, or applicant’s lawful status expired as of June 15, 2012;
· Applicant is currently studying, or has graduated from high school or earned a certificate of completion of high school or GED, or has been honorably discharged from the Coast Guard or military (technical and trade school completion also qualifies);
· Applicant has NOT been convicted of a felony, certain significant misdemeanors (including a single DUI), or three or more misdemeanors of any kind.
DACA provided for infinite renewals within the eligibility guidelines.
A Campaign Promise Kept
On September 5, 2017, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, on order of the Trump Administration, announced the end to the government’s consideration of all new applications to DACA, as of March 5, 2018.
Additionally, those DACA recipients with their legal status set to expire on that date were granted a brief extension to re-apply for their two-year renewal by October 5, 2018.
President Trump’s decision impacts as many as 800,000 Dreamers.
As of February 13, 2018, two U.S. judges had blocked the Trump Administration’s order. The fate of DACA is currently waiting to be decided by the courts.
One of four current undocumented undergrads at Harvard, Mr. Park, who is 22 years old, was born in South Korea. In search of a better life for their son and family, his parents brought him to Flushing, New York, in the borough of Queens, where he lived from the age of seven.
In 2014, as a junior in high school, he founded (and currently serves as co-director of) the non-profit organization Higher Dreams, Inc., which offers guidance and resources to undocumented students, with college aspirations.
Upon his acceptance to Harvard, Mr. Park said:
“When Obama announced DACA in 2012, he singlehandedly changed my life. Without DACA, I’m vulnerable. DACA helped me walk without fear because I was protected from deportation. I applied to 34 schools. I knew that some schools were not going to accept me because I was undocumented. When I was accepted to Harvard, my parents felt it was a validation of our lives here. For them, it was like, ‘This is why we came here; this is why we went through all the things we went through.’ Every day, they tell me how proud they are of me.”
Mr. Park will earn his B.A. in Molecular and Cellular Biology with a minor in Ethnicity, Migration, and Rights.
While pursuing his degree at Harvard, Mr. Park also became the director of Harvard Philips Brooks House Association Chinatown Citizenship Program, which serves the Boston community as a naturalization outlet.
Although DACA recipients were not eligible to apply for consideration to be a Rhodes Scholar, per the scholarship guidelines in place until 2018, that didn’t stop Mr. Park from applying in his junior year.
Predictably, Mr. Park was not selected. However, his merit and application inspired Gregory A. Llacer, Director of Harvard’s Office of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships (URAF), and Elliot Gerson, the American Secretary of the Rhodes Trust, to lead petitions to the Rhodes Trust in Oxford to expand the scholarship eligibility to include DACA recipients. Fortunately, the Rhodes Trust in Oxford agreed.
According to an NBC News article from November 2018, Mr. Gerson said, “In looking for those Americans with extraordinary talent, a combination of academic excellence with character leadership and ambition to serve others, we didn’t want to exclude Dreamers who are, in our opinion, such important Americans and who offer so much to this country and to the world.”
So, in addition to Mr. Park’s exemplary qualifications and fortitude, he is a trailblazer in advancing his fellow Dreamers’ opportunities for academic advancement.
Last November, The Harvard Crimson reported that Mr. Park’s undocumented status is responsible for shaping his aspirations to attend medical school, and ultimately, to focus on improving health-care for immigrant families.
“Growing up as an undocumented person in New York City, I had a lot of formative experiences that have taught me that it’s important for me to use my talents and my educational training to give back to the undocumented community,” Park said. “And I wanted to do that through the lens of healthcare.”
Mr. Park said, he would concentrate on earning masters degrees in Global Health Science and Epidemiology, and Migration Studies, while at Oxford.
“I proposed the Migration Studies to gain skills that I can use in the field to responsibly record and document the narrative and the lives of undocumented immigrants in New York City,” Mr. Park said.
Ironically, by accepting his Rhodes Scholarship and enrolling at the Oxford upon his graduation from Harvard, Mr. Park risks not being allowed to re-enter the U.S.
According to an AP News article from January 4, 2019, “President Donald Trump’s administration rescinded the option for overseas travel for those with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status, or DACA, when he moved to phase out the Obama-era program in 2017.”
By any standard, Mr. Park and the other 31 American Rhodes Scholars from the Class of 2019, have joined an elite group of academic achievers. Some of the more prominent and recent Rhodes Scholars from the U.S. include (From top to bottom w/ year of graduating class.): The 42nd president of the United States Bill Clinton (1968); U.S. Senator from New Jersey, and 2020 presidential candidate Cory Booker (1991); Mayor of Los Angeles Eric Garcetti (1993); and MSNBC journalist Rachel Maddow (1995).
In Good Company
Mr. Park is among 32 American recipients of the 2019 Rhodes Scholarship, and according to Mr. Gerson, “Almost half of the winners are immigrants themselves or first-generation Americans.”
When speaking to WABC last November, Mr. Park said, “If you give immigrants an opportunity, we are going to improve everything in America.”
At David Acalin Law, my associates and I couldn’t agree more with Mr. Park’s wisdom.
During our years of practice, we have gained legal status for many deserving, undocumented immigrants, who have then produced remarkable accomplishments for their families and adopted communities.
We have the necessary years of experience to provide immigrants with the opportunity to help to improve everything in America.
Please contact us at 323-937-8888 or firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll be more than happy to assist.