Tai Yen Jimmy Kim and the American dream

Tai Yen Jimmy Kim rapping on stage in Anchorage. Kim enjoys collaborating with friends at open mics around town. Photo credit: Photo courtesy of Tai Yen Jimmy Kim

When Tai Yen Jimmy Kim isn’t at UAA studying for his justice and theater classes, one can find him performing in plays across Anchorage, working at Rustic Goat or at a local open mic rapping about institutionalized racism.

Tai Yen Jimmy Kim is a “dreamer.”

Kim with his parents in New York when they first got to America. Photo courtesy Tai Yen Jimmy Kim.

When he was four years old, Kim moved from South Korea to New York. Accompanying Kim was his mother and her family. The family hoped to become citizens with the help of Kim’s grandfather, who had moved to Chicago and became a citizen himself before Kim was born. A petition was put forth by his grandfather to help the family gain citizenship, but unfortunately proved futile for the Kims.

“I can’t help but think if we were able to afford an immigration lawyer in New York years ago, we could be citizens by now,” Kim said.

When Kim was 12 years old, his family moved to Alaska where he’s been ever since. Kim graduated from West High School in Anchorage and now is in his senior year at UAA, where he is double-majoring in theater and justice.

“I spent hundreds of hours participating in the Anchorage Youth Court, a specialized court for minors. That’s when I became interested in law,” Kim said. “I hope to work in rehabilitation rather than become a lawyer. Anchorage is unique in that it has specialized courts for domestic violence, and drug and alcohol abuse, among others. I want to help these individuals reintegrate back into society. I want to find funding for mental health programs for these inmates who need it most.”

Kim is 22 years old and not a U.S. citizen. Kim is protected from deportation and eligible for a work permit because of an Obama-era immigration policy known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. The program has offered protection to nearly 800,000 children who were brought to the U.S. illegally, allowing them to remain in the country without fear of deportation.

A portrait that was taken of Kim while he was living in South Korea. Photo courtesy Tai Yen Jimmy Kim.

DACA recipients must have entered the U.S. before 2007 when they were 16 or younger. The protections of the DACA program are renewable every two years. Earlier this month, the Trump administration announced that they would be rescinding the program, although the future of the program is still up in the air and in the hands of the nation’s lawmakers and politicians.

“Why couldn’t he keep the protections offered by DACA, while pushing Congress to create a more comprehensive bill? It shouldn’t take putting 800,000 young adults in limbo for Congress to do their job,” Kim said. “These immigrants are striving to make this country great. We are hardworking individuals. If you truly believe that we are the reason you can’t get a job, then I can see why you’re unemployed.”

If the Trump administration were to wind-down the program, Kim could be at risk of losing his work permit, or may even be deported back to South Korea.

“I am not worried about deportation. I built an extensive network of kind, intelligent people here. They wouldn’t let that happen. Also, Trump and Homeland Security are a long way from deporting over 800,000 DACA recipients,” Kim said. “I am worried, however, about my ability to work legally and receive scholarship funds for graduate school down the line. My work permit expires in January.”

Kim’s father stayed behind in South Korea. Due to visa restrictions, Kim has not been able to visit his father in nearly a decade. The two have been able to communicate via text and video chats without costly international fees through an app called Line.

“We thought we would be able to visit Korea regularly, but that’s not how it played out… He pays for my college tuition, and I’m incredibly grateful for that. I’m proud of him and worried about him. He works hard for a family he can’t be with,” Kim said.

If Kim traveled to South Korea to visit his father, he would not be allowed re-entry into the U.S.

Kim with his mom and dad in South Korea. Kim has not seen his father in over a decade. Photo courtesy Tai Yen Jimmy Kim.

“My lawyer has informed me that travelling back to Korea would be dangerous, since I wouldn’t be allowed re-entry into the U.S., something my USCIS [United States Citizenship and Immigration Services] issued work permit makes abundantly clear on the bottom front of the card, ‘NOT VALID FOR REENTRY TO U.S.'” Kim said.

Besides his father, the only other connection Kim has to South Korea is the language. Practicing with his mom at home, Kim is able to keep a basic retention of the language.

“It is the only time I get any practice. I can’t speak it at an intellectual level. I won’t be conducting any literary analyses in Korean anytime soon. However, I can keep a conversation for the most part,” Kim said.

One of Kim’s hobbies is rap. He’s had the pleasure of collaborating with friends at open mics and has even rapped on stage with Inspectah Deck, something Kim has said he is very proud of. Although Kim hasn’t rapped about the DACA policy yet, he hopes to write a rap as well as a play about his experiences as a young American immigrant.