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Undocumented activist shares story of his own "invisible prison"

NEW YORK - It was not until Jong-Min You was 17 that he realized that he had been living in the U.S illegally.

At the time, Jong-Min, now 34, had been applying to a hospital residency program through Stuyvesant High School. When the hospital asked for his green card, he searched his home endlessly until he called his mother.

Her response shocked him: "You don't have one, you can't do that hospital residency program, and don't ever talk about this either," he recalled in an interview with CBS News correspondent Elaine Quijano.

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Jong-Min You/Family photo

Without the green card Jong-Min had to skip the mandatory first-day session, and was ultimately cut from the program - dashing his then-dream of becoming a pediatrician

While that was the first time Jong-Min truly felt the limitations of his undocumented status, it wouldn't be the last. After graduating from The University of Tennessee-Knoxville, the pre-med major tried to apply to Harvard Law School with the goal of becoming a federal judge. When he disclosed his undocumented status to an admissions officer he was told that he simply could not apply.

Jong-Min's parents first brought him to the United States from Korea in 1981. While the family had visas at the time, by 1985 they had expired, and Jong-Min became undocumented.

"Most if not all undocumented go through a period of depression or severe depression, and even sometimes suicides. I think we're not machines, we are people," he told CBS News' Quijano of the emotional toll of being caught in an "invisible prison."

"You're locked behind these invisible bars, you can't drive, you can't vote, and then you see your peers moving on in life."

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Jong-Min You/Family photo

Jong-Min's metaphor takes on more meaning when observing him at work in the basement of his parents' Brooklyn, N.Y. grocery store where he works seven days a week stocking shelves, taking inventory, and closing up at night.

"In my younger days I thought I was too good for it. Then you realize that your parents did it, everybody works hard at their jobs. I'm just glad to help out my parents and try to do the best that I can. I just have different goals and hopefully I can be at a court late at night rather than a grocery store," the 2003 college graduate said.

Before locking up, Jong-Min takes down the day's winning lottery numbers, noting that he has a better shot at winning that than becoming a citizen: "It's one out of a billion, and you have no pathways."

Jong-Min kept his legal status a secret throughout college. It was not until years later while giving a speech at Brown University as part of an Undocumented student panel advocating for the DREAM Act, that he felt empowered to speak out, driven by the need to share the story "about my life, and trying to understand it, and trying to urge other undocumented youths to come out of the shadows."

Quijano reports he is currently working with a group called #1of11Million pushing to expand rights and protections for undocumented immigrants.

"I wanted those who do suffer from depression to understand that their life is more than a nine-digit number, and hopefully we all can work together on this for a better DREAM Act and a better immigration system."

In 2012, Jong-Min missed the age cutoff to apply for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals by a matter of months. (DACA requires one be under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012--at the time, he was 32.)

Since President Obama's recent expansion of DACA, Jong-Min can now apply for temporary working papers every three years.

While this new status can help him obtain a drivers license and working papers, Jong-Min isn't satisfied.

"I don't think we will be satisfied, or I will be satisfied, until there is a rolling admission that many undocumented immigrants or immigrants can come here and try to become citizens one day. I think this bureaucracy of immigration is just too much and too bureaucratic, it makes it nearly impossible."

Quijano questioned if he is advocating for Amnesty, he responded "There should be pathway for people like me who've been here for 30 years, how is that Amnesty if I've been here 30 years and I cant even get citizenship?"