SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) --An undocumented college student, who heckled President Obama in San Francisco last year over his immigration policy, is getting to go back home to Korea for the first time in 13 years without fear that he won't be allowed back into the United States
A lot of things remain unchanged for the young immigration activist since he disrupted the president's speech last year.
Ju Hong is still in this country without papers. And, he's still very much of an activist for immigration reform. But one thing has changed; his ability to travel outside the country legally.
President Obama came to Chinatown to talk about immigration reform. A select group of people were invited to stand behind him. Then, the unexpected happened.
A heckler a couple of rows back interrupted Obama's speech. It was Ju Hong, a 24-year-old undocumented Korean graduate student at San Francisco State University.
He was disappointed that Mr. Obama never mentioned the plight of undocumented immigrants.
"I'm representing the voices of, you know, other undocumented students who are actually in detention centers right now," said Hong back on November 25.
Hong came to this country with his parents as tourists when he was 11 years old. They stayed on after their visas expired. As undocumented immigrants, they've struggled.
Hong became a young activist seeking immigration reform. He said the day after the heckling, the White House called.
"The White House told me that, 'By the way, you are no longer invited to White House and any type of future,' I'm like, OK," said Hong.
Hong never expected the media attention that followed. He also got a lot of support.
"A lot of hate mails as well. A lot of hate mails and a lot of backlash," he said.
Almost half a year later, Hong says he has no regrets.
"I would do it again because it was right thing to do and it was necessary," he said.
Hong is in a government program that allows certain undocumented immigrants to stay in the country temporarily.
Hong recently got clearance from the U.S., under a special humanitarian program, to visit South Korea with assurances that he'll be permitted to return here despite his immigration status.
Hong's grandmother, whom he hasn't seen in 13 years, is very sick.
"She's turning 90-years-old this year. And I wanted to visit her before her health condition gets worse," he said.
Hong says he realizes that he could have been punished for just heckling the president in some other countries. He says that's the beauty of democracy.
"That is why I feel grateful. And, I consider as this country as my home and I'm an American. But my hope is that one day, government will recognize our presence in this country and hopefully I will regain my dignity and respect while I live in this country," he said.
Hong leaves on Wednesday for Seoul where his grandmother and other relatives live. He'll be gone for 20 days.
And, although he's leaving with permission to reenter the U.S., Hong says there's always the risk his status could be revoked.