Rhodes scholar and ‘Dreamer’ fears he can’t return to US


National News

January 4, 2019 - 4:05 PM

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) — He became the first “Dreamer” to win the prestigious Rhodes scholarship, but for recent Harvard University graduate Jin Park, the joy of that achievement has given way to uncertainty.

The 22-year-old, who lives in New York City, risks not being allowed back in the country if he enrolls at the University of Oxford in England in the fall.

President Donald Trump’s administration rescinded the option for overseas travel for those with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status, or DACA, when he moved to phase out the Obama-era program in 2017.

But travel abroad, which was allowed under limited circumstances such as academic study during the Obama administration, should still be permitted because the federal courts have upheld the program for now, argue Park and his supporters.

“If I leave, there’s a very real possibility that I won’t be able to come back. That’s the biggest fear for sure,” said Park, whose family came to the U.S. from South Korea when he was 7 years old. “I haven’t really thought about what that’s going to mean if I’m not allowed back.”

U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services, which administers DACA, didn’t respond to emails seeking comment.

DACA recipients, commonly called “Dreamers” because of never-passed proposals in Congress called the DREAM Act, are protected from deportation because they were brought into the country illegally at a young age.

Discussing the risks has been a delicate topic to broach with his parents, who cried out of joy when he won the scholarship, Park said.

“I’ve been avoiding that question,” he said days after graduating from Harvard last month. “This was especially meaningful for them. It was like a validation of the sacrifices they’ve made for me.”

Nearly 700,000 individuals are currently on DACA, which was created in 2012 and can be renewed every two years. To qualify, immigrants must have entered the country by 2007 and been under age 16 when they arrived.

The Trump administration issued an order winding down the program in 2017, but federal judges in New York, California and Washington, D.C., ruled against those efforts last year and have effectively kept the program running.

The administration, which is now seeking a Supreme Court review of those rulings, said last February it would honor travel requests approved before it moved to end DACA, but is also warned recipients that going abroad without so-called “advance parole” approval “automatically terminates your deferred action under DACA.”

Past Rhodes scholars and other Rhodes Trust supporters are volunteering their private counsel to Park in the meantime, but it’s a “matter of American law and not anything the Rhodes Trust can resolve alone,” said Elliot Gerson, the British organization’s American secretary. “Our hope is for federal action,” he added.

“The government should enforce the law as it currently stands, to allow Jin to fulfil his scholarly work,” said Kristian Ramos, a spokesman for Define American, an immigrant advocacy organization that supported Park in his Rhodes scholarship bid.

Park could turn down the scholarship but has decided against that route. He wants to continue to be a voice in the immigration debate and believes the benefits of going to Oxford outweigh the risks.