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U.S. Olympic speed skater Simon Cho shares his immigrant experience, speaks on reform

By Iris Chen

May 9, 2010 9:03 p.m.

CORRECTION: The event was hosted by the Alliance of Korean American Students in Action and supported by UCLA IDEAS ““ not vice versa. Also, AKASIA is not a nonprofit organization, but a space for immigration rights campaigns. Lastly, the original headline was misleading in that Simon Cho came to speak about his experience as an immigrant and immigration reform in general, and not only the DREAM Act.

It was not until U.S. speed skating Olympian Simon Cho received his USA gear for the Olympics that he truly felt like an American citizen.

On Thursday, Simon Cho shared his personal story of being an illegal undocumented during a meet and greet at Kerckhoff Hall hosted by the Alliance of Korean American Students in Action, a group of college students sponsored by the Korean Resource Center and a space for immigrant rights campaigns.

The event was also sponsored by IDEAS at UCLA, a student-run organization that advocates the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act.

In 2009, Sen. Dick Durbin and Sen. Richard Lugar reintroduced the DREAM Act, which is a bipartisan legislation that would grant students conditional legal status and eventual citizenship should they meet a certain age, education and other requirements.

Despite living as an undocumented immigrant in America from South Korea for most of his childhood, Cho still pursued his dream of speed skating, winning a bronze medal at the Vancouver Olympic Games as the youngest member of his team at 18 years old.

“In the beginning, I found my own story to be embarrassing, but now I feel like … I have to let people know and open people’s eyes,” said Cho, who has also met and spoke with Durbin about the DREAM Act.

Cho said he plans to get his voice heard by telling his personal struggle to overcome odds to reach success, and said his story is a good example of what the DREAM Act can accomplish.

“The goal was to reach out to as many students as possible and to make them aware of the immigration issue that’s affecting so many students here on campus,” said David Cho, a third-year economics/international area studies and Korean studies student, member of AKASIA, and facilitator of the meet and greet.

David Cho said since Simon Cho is an U.S. Olympian and was undocumented himself, students can gain moral support through his example and understand that as long as they work hard and continue to fight for immigration reform, the DREAM Act is possible.

Gilbert Laim, a first-year applied mathematics student, attended the event and even took a picture with Simon Cho.

“Although I had never thought immigration as a high priority in reform, after meeting Simon and hearing his inspirational story, I do realize that the current policy is unfair and immigration reform is an urgent matter,” Laim said.

Aside from the meet and greet, IDEAS at UCLA has also been involved in other activities to push for federal immigration reform.

“This is the 10th time the DREAM Act has been introduced, so we are continuing our lobbying efforts, signing petitions, calling representatives and congress members and finding sponsors,” said Sofia Campos, advocacy chair for IDEAS at UCLA.

Future events include a DREAM Act Teach-In on May 17 at Kerckhoff Grand Salon, and the Immigrant Youth Empowerment Conference on May 30 at Ackerman Grand Ballroom.

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