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
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1305 GMT (2105 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 1723 GMT (0123 HKT)
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 1938 GMT (0338 HKT)
SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 04: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell walks the sidelines prior to the game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers at CenturyLink Field on September 4, 2014 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Martha Pease says the NFL commissioner shouldn't be judge and jury on player wrongdoing.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1315 GMT (2115 HKT)
It's time for a much needed public reckoning over U.S. use of torture, argues Donald P. Gregg.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1225 GMT (2025 HKT)
Peter Bergen says UK officials know the identity of the man who killed U.S. journalists and a British aid worker.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1128 GMT (1928 HKT)
Joe Torre and Esta Soler say much has been achieved since a landmark anti-violence law was passed.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2055 GMT (0455 HKT)
David Wheeler wonders: If Scotland votes to secede, can America take its place and rejoin England?
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1241 GMT (2041 HKT)
Jane Stoever: Society must grapple with a culture in which 1 in 3 teen girls and women suffer partner violence.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2036 GMT (0436 HKT)
World-famous physicist Stephen Hawking recently said the world as we know it could be obliterated instantaneously. Meg Urry says fear not.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2211 GMT (0611 HKT)
Bill Clinton's speech accepting the Democratic nomination for president in 1992 went through 22 drafts. But he always insisted on including a call to service.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2218 GMT (0618 HKT)
Joe Amon asks: What turns a few cases of disease into thousands?
September 11, 2014 -- Updated 1721 GMT (0121 HKT)
Sally Kohn says bombing ISIS will worsen instability in Iraq and strengthen radical ideology in terrorist groups.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 2231 GMT (0631 HKT)
Analysts weigh in on the president's plans for addressing the threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
September 11, 2014 -- Updated 1327 GMT (2127 HKT)
Artist Prune Nourry's project reinterprets the terracotta warriors in an exhibition about gender preference in China.
September 10, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
The Apple Watch is on its way. Jeff Yang asks: Are we ready to embrace wearables technology at last?
ADVERTISEMENT