What about us? Why didn’t we matter in Obama’s Executive Action?

‘How long do we remain in hiding or risk being taken away from our families?’

‘How long do we remain in hiding or risk being taken away from our families?’

By JayPee Castro

I was disappointed.

I belong to the roughly 7 million undocumented immigrants who were left out of President Obama’s Executive Action. Like many, I came to the U.S. to be reunited with my parents and help them in their old age. I do not have a criminal record, I’m not a threat to society, I pay my taxes, and am quite active within my Filipino community. Why didn’t I matter?

Days leading to Obama’s historic speech on immigration I felt hopeful. I was secretly wishing he would say something that would put an end to what I consider my biggest problem: my need for legal papers. I live a life of constant fear or shame. Right now, I’m unable to come out of the shadows.
I am a restaurant worker in Virginia and have been living in this country for more than 10 years now. I came to the U.S. as a tourist, excited about the prospect of reuniting with my parents, who left me in the Philippines so they could find work here and then petition me.

I arrived in the U.S. and never left since. I am now out of status and moving from job to job. The lack of immigration documents has made it difficult for me to have a stable professional life.

On November 20, I felt hopeful. I was expecting Obama’s speech to say something about what to do with immigrants like us. When the President finally appeared on the screen, my heart skipped a beat. At first I was happy I almost jumped out of my chair. I thought I heard him say he was giving undocumented immigrants the opportunity to “play by the rules” as long as they meet certain requirements. I thought I finally had the chance! Only to realize, it was just for a select group of people: the DACA recipients and parents of U.S. citizens and green card holders.

I am happy for the 5 million immigrants who would qualify to temporarily stay in the U.S. They will be spared from deportation. They will no longer be looking behind their backs for people who might report them to immigration.

But what about us?

We are not DACA. We came here as adults, decided to overstay, and now looking to find a way to get legal status. We are not asking for amnesty, just a way to emerge as part of American society.

If I remember correctly, Obama’s speech alluded to keeping families together by protecting them from deportation. He asked, “Are we a nation that accepts the cruelty of ripping children from their parents’ arms, or are we a nation that values families and works together to keep them together?”

I have always believed in this country to be fair and just, but sometimes I wonder if this nation will ever give people like me a chance to make amends and play by the rules. Why was there no option for us? How long do we remain in hiding or risk being taken away from our families?

Disappointed and confused, I called my lawyer asking him to explain to me the whole Executive Action and if any of its provisions applies to me.

Although nothing at this time applies to me, my lawyer said the Executive Action actually made the possibility of a comprehensive immigration bill to be passed in Congress more complicated. He explained how large the divide has become between the Democrats and Republican, like such a divide happened only after the speech. American politics has cratered since Obama became President.

I understood, and I felt sad.

Waking up the next day with the speech still fresh in my mind, I realize the Executive Action is temporary. I begin to ask more questions. So what happens to the 5 million when Obama is no longer President? Will their legal status be honored by the next leader? What if he is a GOP?

I don’t know the answers to my questions. Maybe I’m just obsessing about immigration for the moment.

All I know is I will not allow myself to lose hope. I will patiently wait for the day when I can finally get my papers. I will continue to dream that one day I can live a life without shame or fear.

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