By Peggy Chapman
Northwest Asian Weekly
Sitting across the table from Jennifer (Jenny) Choi feels like sitting with a friend you should be sharing coffee with and discussing upcoming holiday plans—not discussing fears and intricacies of the possibility of deportation.
Choi’s situation is complicated.
She moved to the United States from South Korea when she was 6 years old, when her family moved so her father could attend graduate school—her family acquired an E-2 visa.
Here is where the complication begins.
“Unfortunately, the international student visa that my dad was on does not offer any pathways for an application for permanent residency,” states Choi.
“The U.S. government views the international student visa (F-1 visa status) as a temporary stay type of visa. So the only other visa that my parents were eligible for at the time was the E-2 visa—which is a small business owner visa. This E-2 visa is also considered a temporary stay visa … it allows for the immigrant to stay legally in the U.S. as long as they invest, run, and operate a small business.”
Choi says her parents were able to maintain their legal status through their E-2 business visa for the past 18 years despite their business not making much money.
Choi is now 30 years old and has lived most of her life in the United States and she considers the U.S. and Seattle her home.
“As long as I maintained full-time student status, I could legally stay in the United States. And so from 2006 on, I have had to stay in school full-time because I wanted to stay in the U.S. because this is my home, where my family is, and where my friends are.”
But now she is facing deportation.
What are her options? Currently, she has several options, but none are simple (or even possible) due to time constraints and reality restraints. She can get married to a U.S. citizen. Or she can get an employer to support a visa. Or she can return to school (she already has a Master’s degree in Public Administration and a Bachelor’s in Political Science and Justice, so returning to school would not be her most logical choice). There is some time on her side, but not much (she would have to leave in the new year) so she is hopeful that options, particularly work, will happen.
She has reached out to Adam Smith, Maria Cantwell, and even Gov. Jay Inslee. She says they were all extremely supportive and referred her to immigration case workers, whom she still communicates with (one referred by Gov. Inslee), and she has also acquired an immigration attorney.
But for someone facing deportation, she maintains a positive, healthy attitude—optimism.
“Fifty-fifty percent chance?” she questions.
“If I have no legal means to stay here in the U.S. after Jan. 18, 2016, I will head back to Seoul, South Korea – where I was born. But I have not lived in Korea since 1991, and I’m sure I can adapt and learn to live there. But it’s a sadly disheartening notion to think that I will be forced to leave this place that I have called and continue to call home.”
Choi refers to the term “Twilight Dreamer,” a reference her friend once made—a situation where you attempt to do everything right, follow all the rules, but it still doesn’t work out.
“It’s a broken system, “Choi says. “Even when you abide by every step, this is what happens.” (end)
The Asian Weekly learned about Choi’s plight via her Facebook post regarding her work issues with Asian Counseling and Referral Service.
Peggy Chapman can be reached at email@example.com.