Undocumented activist: immigration reform depends on us

by Rigo Padilla

January 31, 2013

For the past four years, I watched and fought against a Democratic president who deported over 1,100 undocumented people each day. Each of these deportations falling under the guise that they were the worst of the worst, that they were criminals. All of this occurred while President Barack Obama traveled the country voicing time and time again his support for comprehensive immigration reform and the DREAM Act.

If President Obama’s first term could be defined by anything, it would be of empty promises and of a rhetoric riddled with contradictions. Nowhere was this most evident than in the consecutive failed attempts to implement prosecutorial discretion for those facing deportation. On the one hand, the administration issued memorandum after memorandum promising reprieve to low-priority deportation cases. On the other, the deportation of low-priority cases,with immigrants being deported for traffic violations and immigration offenses, proved that the memoranda held no teeth.

However, the turnout from Latinos during the 2012 elections was supposed to change everything. For the first time in four years, Republicans woke up to the changing demographics of this country. As a result, President Obama could no longer place the blame on Republicans for the federal inaction on immigration.

Yesterday’s blueprint from President Obama, which had been preceded by a similar one from a bipartisan group of Senators, presents more of the same. The blueprints failed to acknowledge that undocumented immigrants have been contributing to the U.S. economy both through their labor and taxes, many having done so for the past few decades. The blueprints also failed to acknowledge that thousands of immigrant families and children, citizens and noncitizens alike, have been left to succeed in this country without a loved one.

IYJL member Miguel Martinez is arrested during a 2011 civil disobedience against the federal Secure Communities program.

It is true that no immigration reform, whether piecemeal or comprehensive, will ever do justice to the 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country. However, President Obama and Congress can begin by acknowledging through their proposals that this country is stronger when families are kept united. They could also do so by giving our parents the same opportunity that undocumented youth without significant criminal backgrounds have been offered, such as reprieve from deportations or work permits and the ability to obtain driver’s licenses through deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA).

Ultimately, how favorable an immigration reform is and therefore its likelihood of passing will continue to depend on the organizing by undocumented immigrants and allies. In the last four years we have seen just that, more and more undocumented people have found their voice and taken on the responsibility of bettering our communities. It is that very thought that gives me hope because it gives us the best opportunity to force the President and Congress to act.

Rigo Padilla is an undocumented activist and co-founder of the Immigrant Youth Justice League in Chicago. He is a graduate student in the Latin American & Latino Studies Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a member of the Graduate Employees Organization.