Rhodes scholar and ‘Dreamer’ fears he can’t re­turn to U.S.

Miami Herald (Sunday) - - Nation - BY PHILIP MARCELO As­so­ci­ated Press


He be­came the first “Dreamer” to win the pres­ti­gious Rhodes schol­ar­ship, but for re­cent Har­vard Uni­ver­sity grad­u­ate Jin Park, the joy of that achieve­ment has given way to un­cer­tainty.

The 22-year-old, who lives in New York City, risks not be­ing al­lowed back in the coun­try if he en­rolls at the Uni­ver­sity of Ox­ford in Eng­land in the fall.

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.

But travel abroad, which was al­lowed un­der lim­ited cir­cum­stances such as aca­demic study dur­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, should still be per­mit­ted be­cause the fed­eral courts have up­held the pro­gram for now, ar­gues Park and his sup­port­ers.

“If I leave, there’s a very real pos­si­bil­ity that I won’t be able to come back. That’s the big­gest fear for sure,” said Park, whose fam­ily came to the U.S. from South Korea when he was 7 years old. “I haven’t re­ally thought about what that’s go­ing to mean if I’m not al­lowed back.”

U.S. Cit­i­zen and Im­mi­gra­tion Ser­vices, which ad­min­is­ters DACA, didn’t re­spond to emails seek­ing com­ment.

DACA re­cip­i­ents, com­monly called “Dream­ers” be­cause of never-passed pro­pos­als in Congress called the DREAM Act, are pro­tected from de­por­ta­tion be­cause they were brought into the coun­try il­le­gally at a young age.

Dis­cussing the risks has been a del­i­cate topic to broach with his par­ents, who cried out of joy when he won the schol­ar­ship,

Park said.

“I’ve been avoid­ing that ques­tion,” he said days af­ter grad­u­at­ing from Har­vard last month. “This was es­pe­cially mean­ing­ful for them. It was like a val­i­da­tion of the sac­ri­fices they’ve made for me.”

Nearly 700,000 in­di­vid­u­als are cur­rently on DACA, which was cre­ated in 2012 and can be re­newed ev­ery two years. To qual­ify, im­mi­grants must have en­tered the coun­try by 2007 and been un­der age 16 when they ar­rived.

The Trump ad­mi­nis- tra­tion is­sued an or­der wind­ing down the pro­gram in 2017, but fed­eral judges in New York, Cal­i­for­nia and Washington, D.C., ruled against those ef­forts last year and have ef­fec­tively kept the pro­gram run­ning.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion, which is now seek­ing a Supreme Court re­view of those rul­ings, said last Fe­bru­ary it would honor travel re­quests ap­proved be­fore it moved to end DACA, but is also warned re­cip­i­ents that go­ing abroad with­out so­called “ad­vance pa­role” ap­proval “au­to­mat­i­cally ter­mi­nates your de­ferred ac­tion un­der DACA.”

Past Rhodes schol­ars and other Rhodes Trust sup­port­ers are vol­un­teer­ing their pri­vate coun­sel to Park in the mean­time, but it’s a “mat­ter of Amer­i­can law and not any­thing the Rhodes Trust can re­solve alone,” said El­liot Ger­son, the Bri­tish or­ga­ni­za­tion’s Amer­i­can sec­re­tary. “Our hope is for fed­eral ac­tion,” he added.

“The gov­ern­ment should en­force the law as it cur­rently stands, to al­low Jin to ful­fil his schol­arly work,” said Kris­tian Ramos, a spokesman for De­fine Amer­i­can, an im­mi­grant ad­vo­cacy or­ga­ni­za­tion that sup­ported Park in his Rhodes schol­ar­ship bid.

Park could turn down the schol­ar­ship but has de­cided against that route. He wants to con­tinue to be a voice in the im­mi­gra­tion de­bate and be­lieves the ben­e­fits of go­ing to Ox­ford out­weigh the risks.

“I’m look­ing for­ward to hav­ing that un­struc­tured time to think about these broader ques­tions of who be­longs in Amer­ica and the value judg­ments we make about oth­ers,” he said.

Park has been a vo­cal ad­vo­cate for DACA re­cip­i­ents since he was in high school. In 2015, he founded Higher Dreams, a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion that helps stu­dents with­out per­ma­nent im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus nav­i­gate the col­lege ap­pli­ca­tion process.

With the back­ing of Har­vard, Park ap­plied for the Rhodes schol­ar­ship last year as part of a broader ef­fort to un­der­score how DACA re­cip­i­ents didn’t qual­ify for the ven­er­ated award and oth­ers like it. The schol­ar­ship was cre­ated in 1902 by Bri­tish busi­ness­men and politi­cian Ce­cil Rhodes and pro­vides all ex­penses for at least two years of study at Ox­ford.

Park’s ap­pli­ca­tion — like a num­ber of oth­ers in re­cent years — was re­jected, but the mes­sage was re­ceived. The Rhodes or­ga­ni­za­tion changed its pol­icy ef­fec­tive this year. Park re-ap­plied and was ac­cepted.

Ger­son said the change re­flects the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s ef­forts to ex­pand el­i­gi­bil­ity. Le­gal per­ma­nent res­i­dents and res­i­dents of U.S. ter­ri­to­ries like Puerto Rico have also been al­lowed to ap­ply in re­cent years.

At Ox­ford, Park hopes to study mi­gra­tion and po­lit­i­cal the­ory as he weighs his fu­ture.

The molec­u­lar and cell bi­ol­ogy ma­jor has also ap­plied to med­i­cal school, but he hasn’t ruled out work­ing in city gov­ern­ment, where he be­lieves he can make an im­pact on im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy “no mat­ter who is in the White House.”

And re­gard­less what hap­pens next, Park has the con­vic­tion of know­ing where home is.

“For me, I think of Queens, New York,” he said. “What­ever hap­pens, I’m al­ways go­ing to know that fact. Even if I have to spend the rest of my life con­vinc­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion, or who­ever comes next.”


Har­vard Uni­ver­sity grad­u­ate Jin K. Park, who holds a de­gree in molec­u­lar and cel­lu­lar bi­ol­ogy, was named a Rhodes Scholar along with 30 other Amer­i­cans in Novem­ber. He en­tered the U.S. il­le­gally as a child, mov­ing to Queens with his fam­ily.

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