Rhodes Scholar and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipient Jin K. Park ’18-’19 testified before a House Judiciary Committee Hearing on Immigration Policy in Washington, D.C., Wednesday.
Park, who became the first-ever DACA recipient to win the Rhodes Scholarship in November 2018, spoke about his experiences as an undocumented immigrant and the effect of recent immigration policy changes. Park made national headlines shortly after receiving the award because he risks being unable to return to the United States after studying abroad at the University of Oxford on the scholarship due to his status as a DACA recipient.
DACA is an Obama-era policy that allows undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children to live and work legally in the country. But after President Trump's Administration moved to eliminate the program and federal judges blocked that effort, U.S. Citizenship and Immigrations Services eliminated a specific provision of the program that allows recipients to travel outside the country under limited circumstances, such as for educational purposes.
University President Lawrence S. Bacow said in a Tuesday faculty meeting that Harvard has “connected” Park with legal counsel from law firm WilmerHale, which is representing him pro-bono.
Wednesday morning, Park joined seven other witnesses to testify at a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee in light of the Trump administration’s decisions to dismantle a series of programs preventing certain immigrants’ deportations. In addition to Park, the panel also included individuals with Temporary Protected Status and Deferred Enforced Departure — programs that give immigrants from particular countries temporary legal status in the U.S. or allow the president to temporarily pardon some groups of undocumented immigrants, respectively.
The panel also featured immigration advocates and experts, and a bishop from the archdiocese of Washington, D.C. The eight witnesses answered questions about the impact of recent policy changes on undocumented immigrants and the country as whole.
As the first witness to testify, Park described boarding a plane bound for Flushing, Queens from South Korea when he was seven years old in the aftermath of the 1997 financial crisis in East Asia. He recounted knowing absolutely no English on his first day of school except for the words “Home Alone” — the movie he watched on the plane.
He also recalled the moment when, after attempting to volunteer at a local hospital at age 15 and being told by an administrator that the hospital “didn’t allow illegal aliens,” he learned for the first time that he was undocumented.
“That’s the perpetual reality of being undocumented,” he said before the committee. “No matter how hard I work or what I achieve I’ll never know if I ever have a place in America, my home.”
Park also spoke about how his parents’ sacrifices help reassure him that his fight for immigrant rights is worth it, even when it becomes challenging.
“Sometimes I get discouraged about the discourse and the dialogue around immigration. And I think when I do get discouraged I just look at my father’s hands. You know, they’re rough and coarse and broken because of the kind of work that my parents do — ultimately for me,” he said. “And I stand before you today as a DACA recipient, but my achievements and ability to succeed in America do not exist without my parents.”
When Committee Chairman U.S. Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) asked Park to explain what he thought about the “concept of belonging,” Park said that he wanted to detach the validity of calling the United States his “home” from his achievements as a Harvard Rhodes Scholar — a sentiment he repeated throughout the hearing.
“America to me is home,” he said later in his testimony. “I don’t think that my achievements have anything to do with the fact that I’ve grown up here and I’ve made deep and profound connections to the people and the institutions and the practices here.”
While discussing what he believes truly establishes America as his home, Park described familiar memories from Flushing.
“I think about waiting in one of my mom’s beauty salons right after school until she gets off work,” he said. “I think about the fact that my bodega knows exactly how I like my bacon, egg, and cheese.”
— Staff writer Amanda Y. Su can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @amandaysu.