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On April 25, two days after SB 1070 became law, the Korean Resource Center (KRC) and the National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC) rapidly organized a bus of children, mothers, working people and seniors from Los Angeles to Phoenix.  The story of that journey was captured eloquently by Hector Tobar of the Los Angeles Times and sharply in our memories.

Until something is done soon, SB 1070 will be implemented starting July 29. In truth, however, we have heard reports that intimidation and profiling has already begun with police cordoning off neighborhoods and conducting sweeps to check for citizenship. The fear is now pervasive. From our first trip, a young woman shared that that she worries about her mother and calls her several times a day to make sure she is safe. Does any of this sound like the America we want to live in?

A few days ago, our two organizations organized another bus to Phoenix to participate in the May 29 National Day of Action. It was once again a bus full of young children, working parents, high school and college students and immigrant seniors. NAKASEC’s Chicago affiliate, the Korean American Resource and Cultural Center (KRCC) sent some representatives and a close ally, the Working Hands Legal Clinic from Chicago, and also provided two legal observers for the trip.

We left a day earlier, on Friday, for a rally and visit to Senator John McCain’s district office in Phoenix organized by the Fair Immigration Reform Movement. Close to 200 community members from Washington State, Colorado, Montana, Idaho, California, and Arizona converged to call on Senator McCain to reassert himself as the once courageous and respected national champion for reasonable and fair immigration reform policies. And not, the “build the danged fence” caricature he’s recently become. Within minutes, Senator McCain’s staffers called the police and we were asked to leave. A spirited rally began outside while representatives from our respective organizations including myself met briefly with the District Director. In the end, we did not secure a future meeting with the Senator but we made it clear that immigrant communities were not happy with his backpedalling on the issue.

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KRC members drum and rally outside Senator John McCain’s office in Phoenix, Arizona

DSC_0125Hayeon Lee, Organizer at KRC addresses our members outside McCain’s office

In April, the rally brought out thousands; this day of action brought out an estimated 100,000.  And under the hot sun, we marched more than six miles to reach the State Capitol.  Justin Kim, high school member of KRC, shared: “The march was long and tiring, but we continued to the end.  There were even dedicated people in wheelchairs.” Dena Ilha Lee of KRCC’s Building Sisterhood added that the turnout went beyond her expectations and that it felt great to be able to represent her Chicago sisters and brothers.  She said, “It was hard, but I was more excited than ever to be marching and playing the Korean drums.” A member of KRC’s Community Health Promoters (CHP), a group of low income immigrant senior advocates, Ki Tae Lee (pictured below), also shared his love for Poongmul (traditional Korean percussion ensemble).  He said, “The drums draw people around us, and they follow us as we play.”

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Another CHP member, Eun Ha Lee said, “We were welcomed by the people of Arizona and that was so encouraging.  When we chanted in Korean, many followed along.  It was incredible realizing that all those people were there for one purpose.” Dian Sohn, a student at UCLA, felt proud to be among the Korean American contingent.  She said, “The people around cheered us a lot, but I felt mixed because we are in solidarity not only because we stand for justice, but because all immigrant and people of color communities are suffering.”

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Korean Resource Center joins the marchers – 100,000 strong

For more than a year, we have felt a strong pull toward Arizona in light of the injustices carried out daily under Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. This past January, when a small contingent from KRC & NAKASEC joined the march against Arpaio, we were hosted by locals and got to learn about on-the-ground organizing near Phoenix and specifically in the pueblo of Guadalupe.  With the passage of SB1070 and subsequent legislation under Governor Brewer, the strength from the community level will be critical in overturning the current tide.

What’s transpired under the Phoenix Sun has caused our blood to boil, but it’s also the same sun under which we unite in solidarity. Organizers in Arizona will now be entering into a freedom summer of education, voter registration and empowerment; you can also support Arizona by following suit in your own area. Recognizing that political pressure will not be enough to move Arizona lawmakers, Arizona Boycott Clearinghouse (ABC) has also called for a boycott to apply much needed economic pressure to the state.

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Our banner in Korean translates as “America is a Land of Immigrants”

For our part here at NAKASEC, we know that until we see federal action on broad and humane immigration reform, our entire country is in peril of SB 1070 and copycat bills. The only sound and workable solution to resolving the presence of 12 million undocumented immigrants leading productive lives in our neighborhoods is to legalize them.

For more information, please contact Olivia Park at NAKASEC, 323-937-3703 x209 or opark@nakasec.org.


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