Like many college students this summer I secured an internship. Others would be excited about the opportunity. I, on the other hand, had to worry. I flew halfway around the country for my internship, and because I am undocumented, was petrified by the idea of risking deportation. My Mexican passport surely looked suspicious to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officials, and I knew that at any minute they could ask to see a visa, which I do not have. At any moment, I could be detained. In high school, I was a straight-A student, I graduated third in my class and I made it into one of the best universities in the nation, but I had to worry about whether I would even be able to stay in this country.
At the airport, as I waited to be checked by TSA, I glanced at the television to my right and saw news of President Obama’s decision to stop deporting undocumented students. Constant text messages and Facebook notifications about the president’s announcement prompted happiness and a sense of accomplishment for me — accomplishment because the immigrant community finally received an opportunity for undocumented students to legalize their status.
I have mixed emotions, however, about Obama’s decision to give administrative relief to undocumented students, an action that would immediately affect individuals who are in deportation proceedings, or have ever had contact with immigration authorities. Obama’s decision would allow undocumented students to gain a two-year work permit but only after meeting certain requirements, which include having been in this country since the age of 16, not having reached their 30th birthday and having graduated from high school, acquired a GED or served in the military.
While this was a courageous step by Obama to fix a piece of our country’s broken immigration system, it is only a temporary solution. But why did he choose to use his presidential power now? With elections being held in five months, Obama knows he needs the Latino vote, belonging to the largest ethnic group in the United States, to win. Call my reaction cynical, but to me it is clear that the president’s bold decision is largely a political one.
These political chess moves that play with lives of real people have been carried out by many of our presidents. Politicians only appeal to the common folk when reelections are on the line and later forget about us after being re-elected. This calculated timing of Obama’s decision reminds me of growing up in Mexico during elections, when the PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional, a centrist party) and PAN (Partido Acción Nacional, a right-wing party) handed out rice and beans in exchange for votes.
I feel that I should be happy to have such a “progressive” president, who supports the idea of gay marriage and is now offering temporary relief for undocumented students to legalize their status. But I know all of these decisions are part of the re-election show. I feel the recent announcement is a short-term solution to fix the broken immigration system; Obama’s decision bypassed review by courts and has little chance of being implemented as proposed.
For now, I am happy that this opportunity has been given to the immigrant community, but we will continue to organize until something is done permanently. Personally, I may benefit from this decision, but the community as a whole still struggles. I would still be heartbroken if the day arrives when my parents are deported because of their immigration status. While Obama’s decision represents a step forward to accomplish the immigrant community’s end goal of legalizing the status of 11 million undocumented immigrants, our plight continues.
While this decision will help some students, it is only a short-term solution, and it is unclear that this decision will extend beyond the Obama administration. But I know it will help put me in a stronger position to win broader change for the immigrant community and fight piecemeal policies that still allow my parents, friends and family to be deported and divided. This may be politics, but I, for one, will not simply be a pawn in a game of chess and we, as part of a community, we will hold those in power accountable by rallying and pressuring until something is done permanently.
Ramírez is an international relations and global studies sophomore.