Last week the Obama administration announced a halt to 300,000 deportation proceedings against undocumented immigrants. The proceedings will continue under the watch of a new federal group on a case-by-case basis, and will prioritize the deportation of undocumented immigrants with criminal records, while possibly allowing non-violent undocumented immigrants to continue living in the United States. Critics accuse the administration of granting "backdoor amnesty." Obama supporters range from cautiously optimistic to skeptical, but it's more complex than that.
Many of us have spent years fighting to change our broken immigration system; signing petitions, making phone calls, writing letters and attending marches. So why am I, and others like me, not feeling more enthusiastic? It's all in the timing. You see, while this latest news seems to be a step in the right direction, I can't help but feel cynical about the announcement's campaign season timing. With a current 51% approval rating amongst Latinos, (compared to the 67% that gave him their vote in 2008), and an upcoming re-election bid, the announcement feels, unfortunately, more convenient than compassionate.
For many people, this move by the Obama administration is simply and quite literally, too little, too late - a consolation prize which offers no consolation at all to the nearly 1 million already deported under President Obama's watch and the thousands of families that have been torn apart as a result. What, if anything, will an uncertain immigration reform passed in the distant future provide for them?
Kim, the mother of two girls, remains in the United States, heartbroken, after her husband of 12 years has been deported back to El Salvador.
"To find out, four or five months later, that Mr. Obama wants to take a stand on immigration, give them a chance, it hurts me," says Kim, who asked that her surname not be used to protect her family's privacy. "[My husband] was picked up by Immigration at his job in March of this year…It's just too hard to deal with the emotional and financial aftermath… it's only me now, responsible for all the bills, car maintenance, getting the girls prepared for school. I don't wish this situation on my worst enemy."
Malissa, a woman in Indiana, shares a similar story. Her husband of six years was handcuffed in front of their four-year-old daughter at a local jail and consequently deported back to Honduras three months ago. At the time he was driving without a license and on his way home from work.
"I am about to lose my home because he was the one working while I went to college," Malissa told me. "I have since had to quit college. [My husband] had been in the United States for eleven years, paid taxes, we have a child and we are home owners ...They were only supposed to deport the gang members and criminals."
Unexpectedly becoming a single parent home means one's entire life is flipped upside down. While trying to figure out how to survive financially and comfort their now father-less children, these women must also go to bed alone each night, knowing that their husbands are a thousand miles away with virtually no chance of returning.
"I cry every day," Malissa said. "I do not eat well, nor do I sleep. I miss him greatly and want him back home."
Tracy López is a bilingual writer living outside the DC Metro area and the founder of Latinaish.com.