As we recognize the one-year anniversary of Obama’s November 20 executive action on immigration, I remember that night one year ago when immigrant families packed into a room together to watch the president announce the executive action. He had already signaled that he’d be responding to the unprecedented community pressure against the record deportations that had surpassed two million at that point. He had publicly committed to reform inhumane policy and finally it looked like the delays would end.
Among us were friends who’ve called the US home for 20 years but who haven’t had children, others with kids born here and others without. There were already people who had doubts about what would happen, who had already had to fight their own removal or young people who didn’t meet the criteria that would’ve made them eligible for the deferred action of 2012.
My family and I weren’t in that category but that’s where we ended up by the end of the night. We arrived in the US in the spring of 1994. Like many families, we came when our kids still small. We’ve lived, worked, and built lives here. Distant from where we came from, part of the labor of building a new life is learning to carry those we love close in our hearts even if they’re physically so far away.
We knew that a better life wouldn’t be easy to achieve but as parents we didn’t know how difficult it would be to see how much our children would also have to go through to study, to work, to find a place for themselves in a country that systematically denies them and us our basic rights, our access to education or health, and any affirmation of our own dignity.
As we waited for the announcement that night, we knew that not everyone would be included, but I had assumed I would be a part of the relief. My own children had been able to get work permits and have access to opportunities they did not have before as a result of all they did under the banner, “undocumented and unafraid.”
By November 20, 2014, we had heard that parents of citizens were definitely on the list but it was too absurd to me to think that some parents would be recognized and others wouldn’t. It was simply impossible. What argument could there possibly be to exclude families who had raised their kids here, children who had already received their own recognition from the government?
By the end of his speech though it was clear that we were divided between eligible and ineligible, deserving and undeserving and I was shocked that most people, myself included were in the latter category. There was anger, grief, frustration, but for me, there was also a clarity that we’d have to keep organizing. Life would keep going, as it had before, with little change. We encouraged those who had a door opened for them and then started to deal with the reality that we were in the exact same situation as before.
At our next meetings, parents of citizens showed up like never before wanting to know how it would work and when. Groups started putting together information packets and preparing people with their paperwork. But as time dragged on, conversations became less practical and more skeptical and fewer people showed interest in the announced program.
And at the same time, the other people who showed to our meetings were people who had been caught by immigration authorities and were now facing deportation, that work never stopped. The courts may have blocked DAPA but they haven’t stopped the deportations.
Nearly a full year later we’re so far away from that night and now we’re nearing another election cycle; one where the Republicans are so obviously and alarmingly promoting discrimination but also where the Democrats have an enormous responsibility to do more than use appealing rhetoric to get elected but to actually move proposals that offer us real change.
President Obama still could have a legacy of ending the injustices against the 11 million of us who are undocumented and still here. Beyond DAPA he could stop the prosecution of those of us who have had to leave the US and come back again. He could reverse his investment in tying police and ICE together, something his own White House task force on policing recommends, and he could address the brutality we face in detention when we are caught by ICE.
A year later, we are still building our lives here. We still call this place home despite the policies and laws and rhetoric against us. We’ve had to do so much just to get this far; marches, civil disobedience, hunger strikes, and the daily work of keeping food on the table and families together and we won’t stop . One may think we join organizations out of desperation to defend ourselves. But to be part of this work has not just changed my life and my family, it is where we have sewn together bonds and created community in the face of its destruction. If we can face the poverty and persecution and still defend our families, then certainly the President can do more than his defense of DAPA in the courts. If not, we will be there to make sure he does, just like last year.
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