The path to citizenship: The son of immigrant to help permanent residents make the leap
From the Frederick News-Post
Originally published November 27, 2009
By Nicholas C. Stern, Frederick News-Post Staff
James Chung witnessed firsthand the difficulties his father faced immigrating in the mid-1960s to the United States from South Korea. His father had little money and could not speak English well, Chung said. But he learned the language, attended college, became a real estate broker, started his own sporting goods store, went to law school in his 50s and is a practicing attorney.
Chung, who was born in Montgomery County, said the experience of his father and other relatives left a lasting impression. That will help him in his new role with AmeriCorps, helping permanent residents leap that final hurdle to become U.S. citizens.
Over the next 11 months, Chung will reach out to about 4,000 permanent residents of Western Maryland who are eligible for U.S. citizenship.
That figure represents slightly less than 4 percent of the state's eligible permanent residents, according to figures provided by Anna Anderson, a coordinator for the Maryland New Americans Partnership at CASA de Maryland.
Chung will join about six other AmeriCorps volunteers who will guide immigrants through paperwork, as well as U.S. civics and history studies. When possible, they will teach them English.
Chung's home base will be the local educational non-profit, LIFE & Discovery in downtown Frederick , but he said he will travel where needed.
He is getting a handle on the area's demographics, which includes blocks of Latinos, as well as immigrants from Myanmar. Chung has met with local pastors and church leaders, and wants to approach businesses whose employees might want to become citizens.
"I'm looking to whoever might need help," he said.
Chung himself knows what it means to be a stranger in a strange land.
In the late summer of 2007, after he graduated from Lincoln Christian College and Seminary in Illinois and became an ordained minister. His dean helped arrange for him a position teaching English in Seoul, South Korea.
For about six months, Chung taught his native tongue at Seoul Christian University and started an English ministry as well.
He learned some Korean and could communicate on a basic level, but Chung said his lack of fluency, especially considering his Korean heritage, was an impediment with local Koreans.
"I hung out mostly with English-speaking immigrants," he said. "It wasn't a good fit."