Skip to main content

Immigrant: Can we trust Obama?

By Tania Unzueta Carrasco, Special to CNN
January 30, 2013 -- Updated 1500 GMT (2300 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • At 10, Tania Unzueta moved to U.S. with undocumented family, who are considered illegal
  • She worries her dad won't come home, about her mom who can't go to Mexico to see family
  • Unzueta: Obama let immigrants down by excessive deportation, inhumane detention centers
  • She is applying under new act that will give her ability to work, but worries about her family

Editor's note: Tania Unzueta Carrasco lives in Chicago and was born in Mexico. She is an undocumented immigrant, a journalist, former radio show manager and producer, and co-founder of the Immigrant Youth Justice League, an undocumented youth-led organization.

(CNN) -- How much hope can I have in the president who has deported people at a higher rate than any other in the nation's history?

Asking myself this question is how I kept my emotions in check as I watched President Obama announce his policy on immigration Tuesday. After living undocumented for more than 18 years, and hoping that one day my sister, my parents and I won't be considered "illegal" in this country, my mental health often depends on managing my expectations.

My family and I came to the United States when I was 10 years old from Mexico City, and have grown up thinking of Chicago as our home.

Opinion: U.S. needs 21st century immigration plan

Although my parents have tried to shield us from the effects of being undocumented, we know that my father used to walk the streets looking for work, and that more than once his wages were stolen, with employers using his immigration status as a threat.

Oscar Rodriguez, right, sits with Yenny Quispe, at a \
Oscar Rodriguez, right, sits with Yenny Quispe, at a "watch party" for Obama's speech on immigration Tuesday.

I think of my father as the most likely member of our family to be racially profiled, and I worry every time he goes to work. My mom has seen her father only once in the last 18 years, and I know she misses him and her sisters and brothers. And my sister and I are reminded every day of the barriers of being undocumented, when we cannot apply for a job, a scholarship, or pay the bond of a family friend in deportation proceedings.

Undocumented immigrant Katherine Taberes holds a sign during the watch party for President Obama\'s speech.
Undocumented immigrant Katherine Taberes holds a sign during the watch party for President Obama's speech.

The first time I watched President Obama speak about immigration, I felt the excitement in my stomach. It was sometime early in his presidency, when many of us still believed he would make significant changes in immigration policy during his first term.

I listened to every word he said -- that we are a nation of immigrants -- and allowed myself to imagine a life without worrying my dad would not come home; a moment when my mom might get to see her dad and her sisters again without having to chose between our lives here and her family; a chance for my sister and I to be evaluated on our work and contributions and not our immigration status; a moment to live without fear. But the actions of his government failed to match his words.

Opinion: Stars align at last for immigration plan

This is why I have learned to keep my hopes in check. Not only because of the years without action, but also because the lives of immigrant communities have become even harder. Here are a few examples:

-- More than 1.4 million people have been deported since Obama took office, at a faster rate than under any other president.

Tania Unzueta Carrasco
Tania Unzueta Carrasco

-- The federal government has continued to collaborate with local law enforcement that uses immigration laws to intimidate immigrant communities and racially profile Latinos, such as Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

-- Immigration detention centers continue their inhumane treatment of detainees, particularly those with mental health problems, medical illnesses and those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.

-- Undocumented workers continue to be targeted by the Department of Homeland Security, even in my hometown of Chicago, where a series of operations led to the detention of scores of workers, including more than a dozen day laborers detained while looking for work.

-- Even with prosecutorial discretion policies, undocumented people who have no criminal history, those who are not a threat to the safety of the country, and those who are only working to support their families, continue to be deported. It is important to say I also recognize significant steps forward under Obama. My sister and I qualify for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, and are in the process of applying.

Obama: Remember we were immigrants
Obama: Senators' ideas in line with mine

I must admit, I am excited about having a work permit and being able to travel outside the United States. After the failure of the Congress to pass the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, it has been a welcome, if limited, relief. But I cannot ignore the continued suffering and uncertainty that my parents and my community live with every day. And I cannot ignore how harmful President Obama's policies have been to the most vulnerable: undocumented immigrants.

Opinion: Key to immigration -- Worker visas

With the group of bipartisan senators announcing a blueprint for immigration reform, and the president's announcement of support, it might just be possible for a comprehensive bill to pass.

Unfortunately, I don't expect it to address all the needs of immigrant communities, or of the country. The blueprint that has been presented by the eight senators, for example, already delineates harsher punitive measures for future undocumented migrants, and harsher enforcement at the border. It also does not address the situation in detention centers, or the collaboration with local law-enforcement plagued with racial profiling.

I know that the president has a chance to go outside party politics and make significant changes to immigration policy that could stop the suffering of millions of families by stopping deportations and giving work permits to undocumented adults. He was able to do that with young people; why not do the same for our parents?

What the years of disappointment have taught me is that our communities cannot depend on the goodwill of legislators for change. We must make it happen ourselves through organization. And so I am going to continue to fight for the rights of undocumented immigrants and for the happiness of my family.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions in this commentary are solely those of Tania Unzueta Carrasco.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1315 GMT (2115 HKT)
Michael Werz says in light of the spying cases, U.S. is seen as a paranoid society that can't tell friends from foes.
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Eric Liu explains why in his new book, he calls himself "Chinese American" -- without a hyphen.
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1512 GMT (2312 HKT)
John Bare says hands-on learning can make a difference in motivating students to acquire STEM skills.
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1320 GMT (2120 HKT)
Karl Alexander and Linda Olson find blacks and whites live in urban poverty with similar backgrounds, but white privilege wins out as they grow older.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1620 GMT (0020 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says a poll of 14 Muslim-majority nations show people are increasingly opposed to extremism.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1828 GMT (0228 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says spending more on immigation enforcement isn't going to stop the flow of people seeking refuge in the U.S.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 2048 GMT (0448 HKT)
Faisal Gill had top security clearance and worked for the Department of Homeland Security. That's why it was a complete shock to learn the NSA had him under surveillance.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1841 GMT (0241 HKT)
Kevin Sabet says the scientific verdict is that marijuana can be dangerous, and Colorado should be a warning to states contemplating legalizing pot.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
World War I ushered in an era of chemical weapons use that inflicted agonizing injury and death. Its lethal legacy lingers into conflicts today, Paul Schulte says
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1137 GMT (1937 HKT)
Tom Foley and Ben Zimmer say Detroit's recent bankruptcy draws attention to a festering problem in America -- cities big and small are failing to keep up with change.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1201 GMT (2001 HKT)
Mel Robbins says many people think there's "something suspicious" about Leanna Harris. But there are other interpretations of her behavior
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 1753 GMT (0153 HKT)
Amy Bass says Germany's rout of Brazil on its home turf was brutal, but in defeat the Brazilian fans' respect for the victors showed why soccer is called 'the beautiful game'
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2107 GMT (0507 HKT)
Aaron Carroll explains how vaccines can prevent illnesses like measles, which are on the rise
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 0008 GMT (0808 HKT)
Aaron Miller says if you think the ongoing escalation between Israel and Hamas over Gaza will force a moment of truth, better think again
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1903 GMT (0303 HKT)
Norman Matloff says a secret wage theft pact between Google, Apple and others highlights ethics problems in Silicon Valley.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 2237 GMT (0637 HKT)
The mother of murdered Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khder cries as she meets Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, West Bank on July 7, 2014.
Naseem Tuffaha says the killing of Israeli teenagers has rightly brought the world's condemnation, but Palestinian victims like his cousin's slain son have been largely reduced to faceless, nameless statistics.
ADVERTISEMENT