Greisa Martinez is too nervous to call her mother. She’s waiting until she knows whether the executive action President Obama will announce Thursday in a primetime address will give her mother a reprieve from the fear that at any time she could be arrested, separated from her family and deported.
“I couldn’t get myself to call just yet, until it’s a reality,” Martinez explained. “It would be hard for me to have words to say to her without knowing something concrete.”
Rumors of who will be included in Obama’s orders and who will be left out spread through the media this week. Some are contradictory, heightening the tension as millions of undocumented residents and their families await the announcement. The New York Times, for example, reported in its Thursday edition that farm workers would not receive special protection. But the president of the United Farmworker Union said that he’d been told at a White House meeting on Wednesday that Obama planned to include at least a quarter of a million agricultural laborers.
Martinez’s mother, Elia, will probably hear good news tonight. Two of Elia’s four daughters are US citizens, and it’s widely reported that Obama’s plan will cover parents like her. Elia, who lives in Dallas, Texas, has been a single mother since her husband was deported in 2009, a task made even more difficult by the fact that she lacked a driver’s license and a work permit. She got her daughters to college, but Martinez said that even the commute to work caused her mother great anxiety. She hopes that Obama’s announcement will turn ordinary activities like shopping for her sister’s wedding dress from a hazard to ordinary fun. “She’ll have peace of mind to enjoy those moments,” Martinez speculated. “She can finally feel a little bit safe.”
Obama is also expected to eliminate the age limit for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which Martinez is protected by. (She’s also an organizer with United We Dream, a youth-led immigrant-rights organization.) But the fate of parents whose children are eligible for DACA but are not citizens is unclear. The Times and other outlets reported Thursday that these immigrants would not be given the chance to remain in the United States and work legally.
“It’s a huge bummer for my parents,” said another DACA recipient whom I’ll call Ajay. (He asked that I not use his name out of concern for his family’s privacy.) “Deferred action has been amazing. It’s opened up doors for me,” Ajay said, adding that it’s allowed him to apply to graduate school and be more open about his immigration states. But for his parents, who moved to the United States with Ajay and his younger brother in 1999, Obama’s announcement likely “means nothing. It means more of the same, living in the shadows and not knowing what to expect tomorrow.”
Ajay spoke to his mother yesterday about the rumors that she’d be excluded from Obama’s order. “Mom’s reaction was, ‘I guess we keep going, keep waiting for the next step.’ It’s just disappointing more for my brother and myself to know that we have some sense of security and our parent’s don’t, especially as they get older.”
Another question is what will happen to people who do meet the criteria the White House sets for relief but are already entangled in the deportation machinery—people like Sandra Jacinto. She lives in New Jersey and cleans houses to support her family. Jacinto immigrated to the United States from Guatemala in 2005, leaving two children behind. They were separated for nine years until she was able to pay someone to help them travel through Mexico and across the US border. Jacinto’s youngest daughter is a US citizen, meaning Jacinto might be eligible for relief. But two months ago, immigration agents showed up at her house and informed her of an order of deportation. That mark on her record might end up being the only thing that matters.
“I feel a little bit scared because the truth is that I don’t want to go back to my country. I want very much to be together with my children, and now that I am, I don’t know if I’m going to be deported,” Jacinto said through an interpreter. She said that she was afraid of what would happen to her family if they had to go back to Guatemala, which is torn by violence. “If he gives deferred action, he should give it to everyone because we are all human beings and we deserve equality.”
On Wednesday, immigrants in New Orleans who were put into deportation proceedings after being swept up in the “stop and frisk” style raids conducted by the region’s ICE field office delivered requests for immediate relief to a US Citizenship & Immigration Service office. “Even though President Obama says he’ll soon be making an announcement, ICE has told us that we must leave the country by the end of the year,” Gustavo Bonilla, a carpenter who has lived in New Orleans since 2000, said in a statement. He has two sons who are US citizens, but like Sandra Jacinto, he is not sure whether Obama’s action will stop his pending deportation.
“We obviously would hope that being a victim of policies the president has said need to be made more humane isn’t a reason for exclusion,” said B. Loewe, communications director for the National Day Laborers Organizing Network.
There are 11 million people waiting for relief from a broken immigration system. Until the White House lays out its plan, the vastness of that hope is the only certainty.