Trump A South Korean 'Dreamer,' standing up to US President

Jiho Yu feels "like a prisoner" in the United States, the country she calls home, but cannot leave.

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Dressed in her Halloween costume, Jiho Yu speaks during a meeting for undocumented young people at her university play

Dressed in her Halloween costume, Jiho Yu speaks during a meeting for undocumented young people at her university

(AFP)
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Jiho Yu feels "like a prisoner" in the United States, the country she calls home, but cannot leave.

She is stuck because she is undocumented, or better, "DACAmented" -- tirelessly fighting for legal status, with President Donald Trump as one of her biggest obstacles.

Jiho is a beneficiary of the DACA program, which offers a temporary work permit to undocumented young people brought to the US as children.

She arrived in Los Angeles at age five with her parents, having flown from South Korea -- where President Trump is currently visiting as part of a 12-day tour of Asia.

Now, she is 19 and remembers little to nothing of that journey. She also has no personal memories of South Korea, her great-grandmother who has since died, or the rest of her family -- who she knew only from photos, and now from a computer screen.

She did not choose this life, but she does not blame her parents either.

"I feel like for most immigrant families, we come to the US for opportunities, right? My mother was from a very poor family," the "dreamer," as DACA recipients are known, told AFP.

"For my sake, my mother wanted to come here to allow me to explore options in life."

Jiho thinks back on the shy person she used to be, avoiding discussing her immigration status and heeding her mother's repeated warnings that she could end up being deported.

It is stark difference from the active young woman she is today -- one who works with immigrant organizations, never misses a protest and runs a university support group for other young people who, like her, are undocumented.

'Privileged'

President Trump won last year's election vowing to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants and build a wall on the Mexican border.

His arrival in the White House prompted Jiho to study the law and learn her rights.

But her heritage, not to mention her dyed bright blonde hair, means Jiho does not fit the stereotype of an undocumented immigrant in the United States -- usually thought of as someone of Hispanic origin -- targeted by ICE's immigration control agents.

Jiho is a beneficiary of the DACA program, which offers a temporary work permit to undocumented young people brought to the US as children play

Jiho is a beneficiary of the DACA program, which offers a temporary work permit to undocumented young people brought to the US as children

(AFP)

"I don't want to make it sound like I'm privileged but in many ways I kind of am," she said.

"Because I'm Asian American the stereotypes around me revolve in me being a good student and not doing drugs, so I grew up without the fear of ICE coming."

Trump has already taken aim at several Muslim-majority countries with his travel bans, and Monday suspended the Temporary Protected Status afforded to Nicaraguans, with a decision on Hondurans next on the list.

The president has also targeted Mexicans -- branding them criminals, rapists, murderers and drug traffickers.

He announced the end of DACA -- which has 548,000 Mexican beneficiaries out of 689,000 -- in September. On October 5, the chance to renew existing permits ended for good.

Jiho is one of 7,310 South Koreans who benefit from the initiative, created in 2012 by Barack Obama after Congress failed to support the "DREAM Act," which would offer permanent legal status.

'A prisoner'

She took part in a meeting with Nancy Pelosi, the House of Representatives minority leader, to ask whether the "DREAM Act" might finally be passed.

If that happens, the young sociology student -- whose DACA permit expires in 2019 -- has no doubt the first thing she would do is travel.

"I think, for me, it would be to travel anywhere I want to go to. I’ve felt like a prisoner," she explained.

Perhaps the only time she has regretted emigrating was when her grandmother, who raised her, died in South Korea.

Jiho, whose parents are separated, lives with her mother. Also undocumented, she earns a living selling cosmetics.

Both Jiho and her mother have consulted pricey lawyers to try and gain citizenship, but without success.

Jiho even attempted to enlist in the army, which can be a path to citizenship. But after passing through several stages, she was unsuccessful -- there were no more vacancies.

When Trump won a year ago, the pair joked about returning to South Korea -- one of the world's most prosperous economies.

"But my mother doesn’t give up," Jiho says. "She wants to stay here and work hard until we get our citizenship."

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