A year ago today, my daughter and I held hands and watched President Barack Obama announce his executive actions on immigration. It was a speech that we waited for since October 2013 when I decided to come out as an undocumented immigrant and join the #Not1More deportation campaign.
The speech itself was the result of acts of civil disobedience led by undocumented immigrants all around the country that halted deportation efforts. Obama finally accepted he had the power to do something to end detentions and the deportation crisis, without Congress, in part thanks to the fight by undocumented immigrants. Many of the activists participated in the campaigns by risking arrest and possible removal. For example, at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington, more than a thousand detainees held the largest hunger strike in an immigration prison.
Obama’s immigration plan offered temporary relief from deportation to an estimated 5 million undocumented immigrants who met certain requirements. He said we could obtain work permits and stay in the country for three years without threats of deportation. It also expanded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which protects young immigrants from deportation if they were brought to the U.S. as children, to their parents.
The news was bittersweet: My daughter and I could see some future together without fear of being separated, but we also knew many other members of our community who would not benefit from the relief program.
I imagined all the things I could do with what was to be my new status. I could travel without worrying about returning home. I could find a job that offered health care coverage. I could apply for loans without being charged higher interest rates. I could drive without worrying about possible arrest. I could do even more community organizing.
But none of this has come to pass. Obama’s immigration plan has been a subject of stiff legal battle. Twenty-six states, all led by Republican governors, filed a court challenge immediately after it was announced, characterizing the order as executive overreach. (The Department of Justice is appealing a Nov. 10 ruling by a New Orleans-based federal appeals court to the Supreme Court.)
Meanwhile, the policing of our communities by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has not stopped. I still receive daily phone calls from the detention center with news of more detentions and the transfer to ICE custody of those who served their time for various offenses (most commonly driving under the influence) to be deported instead of being sent home.
A year later, I still live in fear of deportation. I drive around worrying that any contact with police may land me in ICE custody and lead to my removal from the United States. I can’t apply for a job. I don’t have access to health care coverage.
But, despite the lack of relief, we don’t sit and wait. We have not stopped protesting in the streets. In August, protesters blocked traffic in front of the ICE offices in Seattle to call attention to the solitary confinement of transgender people and the daily quota of filling the Tacoma center with 800 detainees.
In September, climate justice advocates, gender and reproductive activists and many others joined our movement, proclaiming no one is free until we all are free. My daughter and I locked arms and lay on the pavement, blocking the buses for six hours to stop deportations.
We continue to fight to stop ICE from hunting our people. We cannot afford to sit and wait for politicians to finish playing political games with our lives. We cannot stand by idly until the Obama administration finds a new path around the court blockage on the president’s executive action.
And now with the latest retaliation against refugee communities from the Middle East in the wake of the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris, more than ever we need to protect each other. At least 25 GOP governors have already attempted to refuse refugees from Syria. And more retaliation is expected to come.
As we have seen in the past, immigrants are scapegoated and criminalized to deflect from the real roots of violence: civil wars; invasions of other countries and the breakdown of stability they cause; the rise of extremist factions; free trade agreements that create poverty and disadvantage in our countries; and the growing economic and social pressures from climate change. It’s easy to blame the vulnerable, and it is our job to defend them against hate and bigotry.
A year ago, my daughter and I were on the verge of celebrating a life I had not known possible. Obama’s deportation relief may materialize in some months because it has legal standing, but we should not forget that at the time this will be discussed by the Supreme Court we will be immersed in the 2016 presidential election and that will influence the political landscape as well. But I will continue to hold my daughter’s hand, as I have for 18 years, fighting for our dignity, our lives and our communities.