Activism

Plea to End Deportations Heard Nationwide as Activist Interrupts Obama's Speech on Immigration

An interview with Ju Hong, Korean immigrant rights activist, who questioned Obama at his recent SF talk.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/Ryan Rodrick Beiler

Two days after he interrupted a speech by President Obama, Ju Hong, an immigrant rights activist from South Korea, joins us to talk about how Obama’s immigration policies have impacted him. As Obama continued his campaign for comprehensive immigration reform with a speech in San Francisco, Hong interrupted him to call for an end to deportations. Obama then turned around to address him directly, and Hong continued talking. Those who placed Hong behind Obama during the speech may not have realized he is one of the most outspoken young immigrant activists in California. He has been arrested previously during immigration protests—most recently over the summer when he opposed the confirmation of former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano as president of the University of California system. Hong is a member of ASPIRE—Asian Students Promoting Immigrant Rights Through Education. "I thought about my family, I thought about my personal struggle as undocumented, and I thought about my friends and my communities who have been deported and who are currently in detention centers," Hong says about why he spoke out. "I felt I was compelled to tell the truth to President Obama that he has the ability stop the deportations for all."

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We begin today’s show looking at President Obama’s push for Congress to pass an immigration reform bill before the end of the year. A comprehensive package has passed the Senate but remains stalled in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. On Monday, Obama continued his campaign with a speech in San Francisco, where he was engaged by an audience member who interrupted him to call for an end to deportations. What made this interruption unusual was the young man was one of the people who was chosen to stand behind Obama, so he was almost on mic. Obama then turned around to address him directly, and the young man continued talking, pleading for president Obama to stop separating families. The person was later identified as an undocumented immigrant from South Korea named Ju Hong. In a minute, he will join us to talk about what he did. But first, this is their full exchange.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: If we get immigration reform across the finish line, and it is there just within our grasp, if we can just get folks in Washington to go ahead and do what needs to be done, we are going to grow our economy, make are going to make our country more security, we’ll strengthen our families. And most importantly, we will live a—

JU HONG: Mr. Obama, I need to know—

PRESIDENT OBAMA: —most importantly, we will live—

JU HONG: —our families are separating—Thanksgiving.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: —most importantly, we will live up—

JU HONG: —I have not seen my family [Indiscernible]

PRESIDENT OBAMA: —to our character as a nation—

JU HONG: Our families are separated. I need your help . There are thousand of undocumented immigrants are torn apart—

PRESIDENT OBAMA: That is exactly what we’re talking about here—

JU HONG: —every single day—

PRESIDENT OBAMA:That is why we are here—

JU HONG: Mr. President, please use your executive order to halt deportations for all 11.5 [million] undocumented immigrants right now.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: What we’re—

JU HONG: We agree—

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Obama! Obama! Obama!

JU HONG: ...that we need to pass comprehensive immigration reform at the same time. You have a power to stop deportation for all undocumented [Indiscernible] at this time.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Actually, I don’t. That is why we’re here.

JU HONG: So please, I need your help.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Stop deportation!

JU HONG: Stop deportation! Stop deportation! Stop deportation!

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Don’t worry about it, guys. Let me finish.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Stop deportation! Yes we can! Stop deportation!

PRESIDENT OBAMA: These guys don’t need to go. Let me finish. No, no, no. He can stay there. Let me—[Applause]. Hold on a second. I respect the passion of these young people because they feel deeply about the concerns for their families. Now what you need to know, when I am speaking as president of the United States and I come to this community, is that if in fact I could solve all of these problems without passing laws in Congress, then I would do so. But we’re also a nation of laws. That’s part of our tradition. And so the easy way out is to try to yell and pretend like I can do something by violating our laws. What I’m proposing is the harder path which is to use our Democratic processes to achieve the same goal that you want to achieve, but it won’t be as easy as just shouting. It requires us lobbying and getting it done. So—

AMY GOODMAN: President Obama responding to the young immigrant activist Ju Hong. Those who placed Ju Hong behind President Obama during the speech may not have realized he is one of the California Bay Area’s most outspoken young immigrant activists. Ju Hong has been arrested previously during immigration protests, most recently, over the summer when he opposed the confirmation of former Homeland security Secretary Janet Napolitano as president of the University of California system. Ju Hong is a member of ASPIRE—Asian students promoting immigrant rights or education. He graduated from UC Berkeley in 2012, currently pursuing a master’s degree in public administration at San Francisco State University. He is joining us now from the University of Berkeley. Welcome to Democracy Now! Ju Hong, talk about that moment, first how you came to be right right behind President Obama, part of his backdrop, and then what your message was.

JU HONG: So, I was informally invited by the White House to attend his remarks on immigration reform in San Francisco and my intention was to hear what he had to say, especially about how he is going to address the lives of 11.5 million undocumented people who are living in this country facing fear of deportation on a daily basis, including my family. However, he did not address wrongdoing against undocumented immigrant family members he have done. He did not have any concrete examples to pass comprehensive immigration reform. When he talked about Thanksgiving and spending time with families and Thanksgiving, I thought of my own family. I was concerned about my mom’s safety. I was concerned about my sister safety, because they could get deported at any given period of time because of anti-immigration deportation programs that was implemented by Obama administration. So, I thought about my family. I thought about my personal struggle as undocumented. I thought about my friends in my communities who have been deported and are currently in detention centers. I felt that I was compelled to tell the truth to the President Obama that he has ability to stop the deportations for all 11.5 million undocumented immigrants, but he did not do so. And I think that his response was very disappointing because he is treating me like a child. He did not adequately address my question. In fact, he lied to the public that he doesn’t have power to stop deportations when he does. So I think that—

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Ju Hong, if I can ask you, again, this issue of how you ended up behind the podium? The people who are chosen usually by the White House to be behind the podium are usually—you would assume—are vetted in some way or another to make sure that these kinds of interruptions don’t happen. So, how was it that you ended up being invited to stand behind the president?

JU HONG: Sure. I was actually selected randomly at the day of, and like I said, I was there to, just to hear what President Obama had to say. I did not have any plan to interrupt his speech, but then again, I was very compelled to speak out the truth about what is happening in our community.

AMY GOODMAN: Ju Hong, after you interrupted President Obama at his speech, he continued with his vow to press ahead on immigration reform. I want to go to another clip. This is from the end of President Obama’s speech where he seems to be addressing you directly again.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: And if you are serious about making that happen, then I’m ready to work with you—[Applause] But, it is going to require work. It is not simply a matter of us just saying, we are going to violate the law. That is not our tradition. The great thing about this country is we have this wonderful process of democracy and sometimes it is messy and sometimes it is hard, but ultimately, justice and truth win out.

AMY GOODMAN: Ju Hong, your response?

JU HONG: First of all, he is not violating the law if—because he has the power to stop deportation. He can use his executive order to stop deportation and that is not violating the law. I think that the law itself is wrong and currently inhumane. I think the current law is affecting me and my family in an unjust way. For example, in 2010, my family’s home was burglarized and my door was broken, my windows were completely shattered, and my important belongings were gone. We were terrified. We wanted to contact the police immediately, but my mom said, do not contact police, what if we get deported? This is something that we go through every single day. We have the fear and we have no protection and uncertainty. This is not just me. I know that 11.5 million undocumented immigrants are facing fear of deportation. I am very disappointed the fact that President Obama is supporting comprehensive immigration reform, but behind the door, he is deporting thousands of other undocumented immigrant family members, tearing apart every single day. He deported one point million undocumented immigrant families across the country which is—he deport more people than any other U.S. president in the history. And every single day, 100,000 immigrants are getting deported because of anti-immigration deportation measure under Obama administration.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Ju Hong, tell us about your story. How did your family come here? How did you become undocumented? When did you learn you were undocumented?

JU HONG: Sure. I was born and raised in South Korea until I was 11 years old. Our family owned a small Japanese restaurant in South Korea. But, unfortunately, it did not really work out—our business. We gave up the business and we filed bankruptcy and one year after my mom and dad decided to divorce and ever since then, I grew up with my mom and my older sister, barely surviving our home country in South Korea. So, my mom decided to move to the United States in 2001 to seek a better life for me and my older sister. Ever since then I grew up just like many other American students. I went to public school, spoke English, and joined many different student activities. Most importantly, I had a dream to go to college. But during my senior year in high school while I was filling out my college applications, there was a section where it requires citizenship status and Social Security number and I did not know what to put. I asked my mom about it. That’s when she told me everything about our immigration status, that we came here with a tourist visa and she extended it for an additional six months, and within 12 months, she tried to adjust our immigration status but it did not work out, and we became undocumented. When I find out my immigration status, it was definitely depressing because of all of the limitations that I have to go through. I thought that I cannot go to college. All those limitations made me became a different person. At the same time, I think that a lot of nonprofit organizations help me out in terms of how to go to college and educate me about AB540 the Dream Act. There are many different legislations that could help me with a pathway to citizenship. The more I learn about immigration issues, I believe that President Obama and his administration is not doing his job and their job to support our community.

AMY GOODMAN: In September, President Obama ruled out halting the deportation of undocumented immigrant parents of children who were granted a reprieve last year like you, Ju Hong. Under the deferred action program, the White House has suspended the deportations of young immigrants who are brought to the U.S. at an early age and have lived without legal status. But, speaking to Telemundo, Obama said it would be too extreme a measure to grant the same relief to their parents.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: What we can do is then carve out the Dream Act folks, saying young people who have basically grown up here are Americans that we should welcome. We are not going to have them operate under a cloud, under a shadow. But if we start broadening that, then essentially, I would be ignoring the law in a way that I think would be very difficult to defend legally. So, that is not an option.

AMY GOODMAN: That is President Obama. Ju Hong, if you could quickly respond to that, and then we want to ask about your protest that you were arrested for the summer.

JU HONG: Just quickly before I directly answer your question, I just want to mention that because of courageous undocumented immigrant youth throughout the country who spoke out and shared their stories and held rallies and events but even conducting civil disobedience actions and hunger strike, that is why President Obama introduced DACA program which allows certain undocumented students to halt deportations for at least two years and get a work permit, work authorization. And to directly answer your question—

AMY GOODMAN: Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

JU HONG: That’s correct. I think that he is just using political talking points to not supporting undocumented immigrant family members. The fact of the matter is, DACA recipients have family members who are getting deported and they’re getting separated every single day. So, what he needs to do right now is to expand DACA for all 11.5 million undocumented immigrant people. That is the only way to reunite with the families, and that is the right way to solve our broken immigration system as we continue to pressure Congress to pass a fair and just immigration reform.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Ju Hong, I wanted to ask you, this is not your first protest that you have been involved in over immigration. Former Department of Homeland Secretary, Janet Napolitano, was recently confirmed as head of the University of California system. Last month following criticism for policies on immigration, she vowed to authorized 5 million dollars in university funds to help undocumented students who cannot get federal financial aid. You were one of six people who were arrested at the University of California Regents meeting as they confirmed Janet Napolitano in July. You were wearing that same blue T-shirt that says "I am undocumented." Why did you choose to take direct action against Janet Napolitano’s nomination or confirmation?

JU HONG: Well, Janet Napolitano does not fit into the president of the UC system because of terrible record of what she has done to our community. Because under her leadership, she deported 1.8 million undocumented immigrant family members across the country. She is proud of the fact that what she has done. She said in the public she supports the Dream Act, but in closed doors she deport people left and right. I think the UC undocumented students are genuinely scared of Janet Napolitano as the next president of the UC system and she doesn’t have any leading position in the education. I think that—she has tried to, recently provided $5 million aid to undocumented immigrants, but I think that is just political will for her to ease out the protesters and try to make her image as a positive figure. But, the fact of the matter is, the $5 million not substitute of how much pain that she caused for our community. She will never substitute the pain and suffering and fear that every single undocumented immigrant face that she has caused in our community. If she really care about immigrant communities, I think she should first publicly apologized to our community, and second, I think she should bring back undocumented immigrant people that she deported, and third, she should respectfully resign as the next president of UC system.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Ju Hong, I thank you for being with us and we will continue to, of course, follow the immigration issue. This is Democracy Now! When we come back, though, we are going talk about Pope Francis and his message to the world. Stay with us.

Amy Goodman is the host of Democracy Now! and the co-author of The Silenced Majority.