President Obama announced on Nov. 20 that five million undocumented immigrants would receive temporary relief from deportation through executive action. The two other items on his agenda included additional resources to protect the border and accelerated proceedings for high-skilled and professional immigrants.
This controversial political move has increased his approval ratings among Latinos by 14 points, according to the Washington Post. Simultaneously, it has also increased the tension between him and Congress, which is now Republican-led—the political party known to be mostly against the rights of undocumented immigrants.
After being disappointed time and time again by the United States government’s inability to work toward a comprehensive immigration reform, I did not expect the president to present a grand gesture of generosity. I knew that he had to tread lightly around his Republican co-workers who threatened to impeach him if he used his executive power for immigrant rights.
Obama put into action the minimum for immigrants and immigrant rights activists who have been waiting for results since they can remember. Many expected him to grant actual citizenship to some undocumented immigrants, not policies that can be easily removed by his successor, such as the temporary work permit and relief from deportation.
By the end of his announcement, no one on either side of the controversy was satisfied. Yes, five million immigrants will be able to apply for a work permit, but only if they have children who are citizens or permanent residents born before Obama’s announcement aired. However, there are still about six million more undocumented immigrants who continue to live in fear from being separated from their loved ones.
The separation of families is what is at stake for many undocumented immigrants such as myself, who may have not expected much from Obama’s proposal but did witness the tears of disappointed peers. Under this executive action, my parents do not qualify because they brought my sisters and me with them under a tourist visa.
Fortunately for my family, a window was opened for them to apply for future residency, which I will not be granted because the paperwork was submitted after I turned 21. This opportunity is separate from any of Obama’s executive actions. This means that, with time, my parents and my sisters will be on their way to legal residency, while I still have to depend on a previous executive action set by Obama back in June of 2012. This executive action called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which has been repeatedly threatened to be removed by current conservative politicians, also allows me to apply for temporary immigration relief and work permit.
If DACA were removed, the Department for Homeland Security holds the right to use my information to track me down and deport me back to a country I have little connection with. I would be separated from my family, or they would come back with me, throwing away all the hard work that has been put into improving the lives of my sisters and I.
The only other option I would have would be to marry a citizen for a green card, but it would have to be a person with the legal sex status of “male” because United States immigration policy prohibits same-sex couples from qualifying. If I chose to make that decision, it would be out of necessity to keep living a semi-normal life, not because I felt that marriage was the next step in my romantic relationship—a privilege I would have been denied.
Even though I did have low expectations, there was still a part of me that hoped something useful to me would stem from Obama’s proposal. I wanted security and confirmation that my fate will no longer rest in the hands of petty politicians who scapegoat immigrants to distract from their own political mistakes. I wanted the same privileges that are awarded to my friends for being born on a certain side of a socially constructed border.
The discrimination against undocumented immigrants falls under the feminist agenda. Being denied rights to a group I am member of means fighting discrimination without the privileges granted to a documented person, putting me in an inferior position of power. Potentially, undocumented women can be separated from their children, displacing families for considerable amounts of time. In this regard, I encourage feminists who hold more privileges than I do to move forward with us and take on this task in conjunction with the dismantling of patriarchy.