being detained

 

 

 

Editor’s Note: This blog originally appeared on April 18th, 2012.

If I could, I would drive to my church. The great state of New Jersey does not issue driver’s licenses to undocumented residents (yet), so I usually rely on my pastor for a ride to church.  As Define American’s Jose Antonio Vargas puts it, he is a part of my “underground railroad,” individuals whose compassion is essential for my day-to-day survival.

My youth pastor has been one of my greatest allies.  Those rides home from church during high school years were more than just rides home.  In that green ’95 Ford Taurus that would take us for unwarranted adventures on rainy nights, we would discuss everything from his experiences as a boarding school teacher in Wisconsin to Japanese soap operas.  Through my hardest times as an undocumented high school student facing constant rejections from colleges and hopelessness, it was very clear God placed him in my life because I needed so much guidance.  To be truthful, I somewhat dreaded graduating from high school because I would move on to English Ministry at my church from Youth Group and that would be the end of the rides.

Luckily for me, by the time I finished college and returned to New Jersey, my pastor became the pastor for English Ministry at my church. With his seemingly infinite well of patience, he came to pick me up from my house to take me to my church’s Early Morning Prayer sessions.  When I first met him, he was a bachelor still in seminary.  Now, he is a father of three children who leads the English Ministry at Presbyterian Church of New Jersey.  Even with circumstances changed, it’s still the same.  He still nags me to take more initiative; we talk pop culture, exercise and everything imaginable.

One particularly cold morning last month, we were unable to find parking in the immediate vicinity of the church.  We veered into Lincoln Street looking for parking when lights flashed behind us.  I was hoping it was anything else but the police.  I crossed my fingers for the rapture instead, but it was indeed a police patrol car.  Not thinking the police wanted us, my pastor slowed down and pulled over when the police pulled over as well.  I feared for the worst.  I frantically took out my cell phone to prepare a text to a friend I was being detained.  The police officer asked for his license and registration and asked him to step out of the car.  I started reciting the Lord’s Prayer nervously in my seat.   My pastor came back to the car and told me the officer informed him the taillights were out and that he should get them fixed. I thanked God longer than usual during Early Morning Prayer and spent the time praying for those who were not as lucky.

Just a few days before, I became aware of an undocumented Korean American youth named Cindy Changfrom San Jose who was detained on her way to a friend’s wedding in Arizona.  That incident served as a reminder that I am only one checkpoint away from facing detention and deportation to a country I left fourteen years ago.  Although through an aggressive public social media campaign and hours of hard work by dedicated organizers and attorneys, Cindy was released from detention, there are plenty of DREAM Act eligible youth who are not as fortunate.

I was also reminded of Alabama’s HB56, under which my pastor could be arrested and charged with a crime for transporting me to church.  How is it that even taking someone to a church or a hospital becomes a criminal act?

Even if HB56 was in effect in New Jersey, I doubt my pastor would stop driving me to church because I know him to be a brave individual who stands for justice because he is a servant of the living God.  This morning, when I go pray, I am going to pray God would use more people to become like my pastor in the lives of undocumented youth all across the nation.

This is the chance to worship God through your life!  Will you be a Levite or will you be a Samaritan?  Are you willing to stand for justice?


Tony Choi is an undocumented 1.5 generation Korean American from North Jersey via Seoul and Honolulu.  He is a proud member of Presbyterian Church of New Jersey (PCNJ), co-founder of Berea DREAM Coalition in Berea, Kentucky, member of New Jersey DREAM Act Coalition (NJDAC) and a member-in-exile of Alliance of Korean American Students in Action (AKASIA), based in Los Angeles.  Although he is not formally affiliated with any organizations, he is working with Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) to create a safe space for Asian American and Pacific Islander undocumented youth in the New York Metropolitan Area.  You can follow his somewhat boring life on Twitter or e-mail him with your concerns and questions. He likes it when people e-mail him for fun.

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