By Hannah Jessen, HRC Communications Director
For the first time during a presidential speech, I truly felt like I had something at stake. When President Obama stepped up to the podium Thursday night to give his speech on immigration, I was nervous. I thought back to the first time I met them – the three siblings who were curious about the afterschool tutoring program. They quickly became some of the “regulars,” and I love them like they were my own little siblings. These kids are from Guanajuato, Mexico, and I had the privilege of hearing the story of how they came to the U.S. when I interviewed their mother for a class project last year. I saw how America’s broken immigration system has affected not only this family but countless others in Carrboro, in North Carolina and around the nation.
After spending nearly a decade in the U.S., this family was considering returning to their home in Mexico. When I talked to the mom about it, she said family was the main reason. But there was something else that was driving them away from this new life they had created for themselves: fear. The fear of deportation, of being arrested and of being separated as a family weighed heavily on the parents’ hearts. Two of the three siblings are U.S. citizens and don’t have to look over their shoulders constantly. But for the parents and the oldest sibling, life here has been and would continue to be a challenge.
The U.S. deportation machine has been growing larger in the recent years, and with it, the fear these immigrants feel. Deportations under Obama alone are approaching the two million mark, and there are an estimated 5,100 children in foster care whose parents have been detained or deported. One of my professors told me she knows mothers who have asked her to take in their kids if they should suddenly be deported. There is no freedom in a life such as this, in which the people and the things you care about most could be snatched away from you at any given second, without any prior warning.
Circumstances shifted slightly Thursday night when Obama announced he would spare five million undocumented immigrants from deportation, allowing them to stay temporarily for another three years. This family I’ve written of was a perfect candidate for this reprieve. They have been here more than five years, they have U.S. citizen children, they contribute to the U.S. economy, etc. And to my joy, we found out on Friday that they are going to stay. But there are over 11 million other undocumented immigrants who live with a lingering fear in the back of their minds that they or their loved ones will be caught. Even with these new promises, still more than half of the undocumented immigrants is left out. So while this was a step in the right direction, there is still much work to be done within immigration reform.
After Obama’s speech, some celebrated while others accused him of ignoring the will of the people. The irony of that statement is that there were at least five million people he did not ignore. By giving a blanket statement such as the will of the “people”, it automatically creates a hierarchy in which certain people’s desires are not even worthy of being acknowledged. He didn’t ignore the will of the people – he listened to the voices of the people who all too often are drowned out by the louder ones.