I am one of the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States.
I am originally from Trinidad and Tobago, and I first came to America nearly 20 years ago. I was nine-years-old when my parents and I first arrived on a very cold day in February. My family hoped for a new life, a fresh start, good opportunity, and the chance to pursue the American dream.
My life experience was very different from my American peers, but I pushed through. I was among the top students in my high school graduating class in a Science and Technology program, and was an academic scholar in college studies.
While I was fortunate enough to attend college, I’ve been restricted by my undocumented status. Simple things like employment and opportunities for career advancement have been out of my reach. I grew up here, pledged allegiance to the American flag, but cannot give back to the community and country that I love. I hope to be on my way to achieving the American dream soon, with my sights on a career in public health. But in order to achieve these goals, there need to be changes to the current immigration system and policies.
On Tuesday, like millions of others, I listened intently as President Obama laid out his plan. His framework was similar to that of the Senate’s blueprint. He explained that his plan would focus on: strengthening border security; cracking down on employers who hire undocumented workers; a pathway to earned citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States; and, streamlining legal immigration.
Objectively, I will say that I recognize the time, deliberation and compromise that it took to come to this point, and the proposed plans are, at least, a start. However, these plans are far from being acceptable or complete. In fact, they sound like something we’ve heard before.
First is the primary focus on border security and enforcement. With illegal crossings down nearly 80 percent, what goals remain for border security? While the President is not demanding that there is a goal of accomplishing security before working on the rest of the immigration plan, there is always a concern when a plan has enforcement is one of its main priorities.
Secondly, there is no mention yet of the timelines for the proposed path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Dreamers, children like myself who were brought to the country as minors, would be given the chance to earn our citizenship more quickly with pursuing military service or higher education. However, what about our families and community members? President Obama proposed that each undocumented immigrant be placed at “the back of the line” in the effort to earn citizenship. However, with the current system, there is no line that these immigrants qualify to enter.
Finally, there was no discussion on deportations. There needs to be a moratorium on deportations to assure that families are no longer living in fear and uncertainty, are able to live and work as viable members of society, and are able to fully participate in the decided-upon immigration process.
These are only a few of the potential critiques. I’ve yet to even touch on the fact that was no discussion about changes or waivers to the 3/10 year bar for “unlawful presence.” There was no word on those who served in the military and then were deported, or whether there will be retroactive action for those already unreasonably deported.
All the same, I was glad to hear the President speak on this matter. For the first time in years, it seems like we might have a chance for immigration reform. I am cautiously optimistic. Just a few months ago, many Republicans were adamantly against immigration reform and even advocated for self-deportation. Now, after the election in November, the tides seem to have turned. The American public has spoken, and they are for immigration reform.
However, until we see a piece of legislation, with details and fine print, there is nothing to which I can fully agree. As of right now, we are still just hearing preached possibilities, but no guarantees. No one said this would be easy, and easy is not what we expected. We have quite a long road ahead on this journey toward reform. This is just the beginning. It is up to us, citizens and immigrants alike, to organize and fight to make sure this reform is fair and right.
Gabrielle Jackson is a local immigrant rights activist.