‘Immigrants Becoming US Citizens Make My Day’

Jennifer Kim with her father Soo-Kon Kim. (Photo via The Korea Daily)

“The happiest moment of my life was when I got a call from immigrants who had been offered my legal services, saying that they finally got citizenship a few years later.”

Jennifer Kim, the co-director of the Immigrant Justice Project in the City Bar Justice Center (CBJC), received an achievement award at the New York State Comptroller’s Annual Lunar New Year Celebration on Feb. 7. Kim was honored for her hard work on behalf of the rights and interests of immigrants at the CBJC and the MinKwon Center.

Kim said: “I’m glad to receive an unexpected award. I hope the CBCJ and the MinKwon Center, which are constantly striving for immigrants and undocumented citizens, receive more attention than me.”

Kim has been working at the CBJC to provide free legal services to low-income citizens and victims of domestic abuse, sexual violence and human trafficking in New York City. Kim has offered “pro bono” or free legal services to individuals or groups who can’t afford an attorney. She has also provided immigration services to people in bankruptcy proceedings and veterans. The CBJC provides legal services with almost 1,000 attorneys.

Kim volunteered at the MinKwon Center when she was in high school, and today is a vice president on the board of directors of the organization.

Kim said: “Although there had been [political] attacks on undocumented citizens, things changed as the Democrats became the majority in the New York State Senate and Assembly this year. The New York State DREAM Act, which the MinKwon Center has been working on for almost 10 years, finally passed the New York State Senate and Assembly.” She added: “For anyone, including undocumented people, it is necessary to issue a driver’s license, resolve the public housing problem, and block the citizenship question from the 2020 Census.” Kim said that she will also continue to work for the rights and interests of “DREAMers,” the people who are protected under DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). Kim serves as a founding member of Korean Americans for Political Advancement (KAPA), a group of second-generation Korean Americans working to increase the political power of the Korean community.

“Living in the U.S. as an immigrant is not an easy thing and I always needed help,” Kim said. She added that after she graduated from Princeton University and the University of Pennsylvania Law School, she was influenced by her father, Soo-Kon Kim, who had been a chairman of the board at the MinKwon Center for a long time.

Kim said: “My father started volunteering at the MinKwon Center when I was 11. I followed him around and participated in community activities and rallies. It was a valuable experience, making me naturally interested in immigration issues in the environment in which I grew up.”

Regarding current immigration issues, she said that the anti-immigration policies of President Donald Trump’s administration put immigrants and undocumented people in a difficult situation across the states.

Kim said: “Under the Trump administration, it has become more difficult for immigrants to cross borders to apply for asylum. The Trump administration is reducing the number of refugees and limiting the opportunity to acquire citizenship.” She added that the Trump administration believes immigrants are not helpful to the U.S. and she said she feels sad about that and it is a bad situation for the entire U.S.

In response to this political situation, she said that she would provide legal services to as many immigrants as possible. Kim said: “It is my ultimate goal to speak for human rights and to implement human dignity within the law.” Kim also stressed the importance of civic participation. “In ways such as learning about the candidates for any election, voting, and participating in community activities, it is possible to improve the [local] community.”

Kim said that she feels rewarded to see the improved condition of immigrants after working to defend the rights and interests of immigrants for many years. Kim added: “When undocumented immigrants or refugees first set foot in the U.S., they suffer from certain trauma or distress. However, there are many successful cases in which status issues are resolved a few years later, allowing them to bring their family to the U.S. to join them.”

The CBJC, which Kim is working for, in 2015-16 provided legal services to 25,000 people, including free legal hotline services for 14,000 individuals, and handled 1,100 pro bono cases.

Kim said that people who need immigration services can contact the CBJC (212-382-6710, citybarjusticecenter.org).

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