On June 15, 2012, President Obama announced Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an executive action allowing certain undocumented immigrants who entered the country before their 16th birthday and before June 2007 to receive a renewable two-year work permit and exemption from deportation. Contrary to popular belief, this executive action does not grant citizenship or a pathway to legalization; if approved you remain undocumented. As someone who came to this country from Mexico as a child, I qualify for DACA. Right after the announcement, I received a call from my grandmother. “Congratulations Mijo! This is going to help you so much.”
My grandmother carried me into this country at age of 3 in 1991. You can say I am American, I just don’t have the papers to prove it. My grandmother and I have been living in this country the same amount of years and yet somehow through the deliberate activism of young immigrant activists, I was granted the right to work lawfully and advance in my career. My grandmother wasn’t as lucky.
When we say the word undocumented, often it becomes synonymous to the word Dreamer. The face of the immigrant rights movement is often depicted as young, inspiring undocumented students. With 11 million undocumented people in this country, there are plenty of stories that are still not being told — mainly the stories of elders who do not qualify for any of these executive actions and hence, remain in the shadows.
On November 20, 2014, the President announced a new deferred action program called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans or Lawful Permanent Residents, also known as DAPA. Similar to DACA, this grants parents of US born children a three year work permit and exemption from deportation. Again, my grandmother called me excited by the news and, again, she did not qualify.
As someone who directly sees how these executive actions create hierarchies within family structures, I am constantly thinking about how DACA and DAPA are not enough. My grandmother, like so many undocumented elders, does not have the luxury of time. If anything, she is a woman who has made peace with her undocumented status. When you have been undocumented for so long, often you just have to tell yourself, “Just keep moving forward.”
This reality inspired me to tell the stories of our grandmothers this Mother’s Day. Where are the faces of undocumented elders? Where are the voices of the generation that brought us here? Like the poet Langston Hughes asked, “What happens to a dream deferred?”