Ackerman helps reunite Korean girl with family

Ackerman helps reunite Korean girl with family
U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (r.) joins Joanne Lee (second from r.) and her family at a news conference announcing that she has been reunited with her relatives after going through an immigration ordeal in South Korea. Photo by Connor Adams Sheets
By Connor Adams Sheets

U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside) introduced the Lees, a recently reunited family of South Korean immigrants, at his Bayside office Saturday afternoon, saying their case is an indication of how essential the proposed Dream Act immigration reform bill is.

Ackerman helped the Bayside family bring their daughter back to America after a series of mistakes and missteps by immigration officials left her stranded in South Korea.

“Today is a very happy occasion. Today we are announcing that we are reuniting a family that was separated due to a bureaucratic snafu,” he said. “This is a story about justice and injustice. It’s a story about how technicalities in the law come to the crossroads sometimes and affect families.”

Haeun Lee, 18, was born in South Korea, but has lived in America since her parents immigrated here when she was 10.

Lee, who also goes by the name Joanne, graduated from Townsend Harris High School in Flushing but was separated from her family after an immigration judge ruled that she was to be voluntarily deported after an immigration broker mishandled a green card application for her, according to Ackerman.

She followed the order and flew to South Korea Aug. 13 under the guidance of an immigration counselor who Ackerman said “passed himself off as a lawyer and also screwed up all the paperwork.”

Lee ended up stuck in Korea after she was denied re-entry to the United States on what Ackerman described as unfounded grounds, and Ackerman’s office intervened, securing her Aug. 23 return to America with the help of Lee’s pro-bono attorney, David Kim.

She arrived stateside again in time to begin classes at the City University of New York for biochemical engineering.

“I was stuck in Korea and I had no idea what I was doing,” Joanne Lee said. “I had no answers. I thought the world was going to end. I thought I was never going to see my friend and family again and I wasn’t going to get to go to school …. I just hope my story can help other people in similar situations to mine.”

That is exactly what Ackerman and Kim hope will happen. Ackerman is a supporter of the Dream Act, a bill that has passed the U.S. House of Representatives but is stuck in the U.S. Senate.

The bill would provide an opportunity for children of undocumented immigrants to earn permanent legal status by attending college or serving in the U.S. military as long as they meet a host of requirements, including learning English, having lived in America for at least five years at the time the bill is made law and having arrived in the United States through no choice of their own.

“What the Dream Act would do is provide legal status and a path to citizenship for these young people,” Ackerman said. “This would be so helpful to so many people who have been victims of injustice. We will work very hard to get this legislation enacted.”

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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