President Obama’s Delay on Immigration Reform Leaves Immigrants Frustrated, Feeling Betrayed

Marlene Vazquez (right) received deferred action from deportation under President Obama's program. Now her mom Beatriz (left) hopes she will be able to receive the same. (Nick Oza/The Republic)
Marlene Vazquez (right) received deferred action from deportation under President Obama’s program. Now her mom Beatriz (left) hopes she will be able to receive the same. (Nick Oza/The Republic)

Beatriz Esquivel has been checking Facebook daily, eager for information of how President Barack Obama plans to use his executive powers to prevent undocumented immigrants such as her from being deported.

Her hopes climbed Friday when she read Obama’s action was coming soon, only to be smashed Saturday morning.

“BREAKING NEWS,” blared a post by a local immigrant activist. “President Barack Obama has just announced that he will not take any executive actions on immigration until after November’s elections.”

The announcement left Esquivel, and millions of other undocumented immigrants, feeling like a political volleyball.

“I feel like I am caught in a political game,” the Phoenix woman said. “It’s like a game of volleyball. … I have been counting the days. What’s going to happen?”

Originally from Mexico City, Esquivel, 41, has lived in the U.S. illegally for more than 20 years. She crossed the border in January 1994, near Nogales with her daughter, Marlene, who was not quite 2 years old at the time.

In 2013, Marlene, now 22, received protection from deportation under Obama’s 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

That program allows undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children to stay in the U.S. for two-year stints without the threat of deportation and to receive work permits.

With deferred action, Esquivel’s daughter was able to get a job as a cook at a restaurant and return to college full time. Esquivel also has a 19-year-old son, Gibran, who was born in the U.S. and now works and goes to college.

Esquivel cleans houses for a living. She was hoping Obama would expand the program to parents of children already approved for the program.

That would allow her to work legally, perhaps return to school, and stop worrying that she might be deported someday and separated from her husband, Enrique, 50, who is also undocumented, and her two children.

But Obama’s decision to hold off on taking action was like “nos da atole con el dedo” — playing us like a fool, she said.

“This is a huge frustration,” Esquivel said. “He keeps saying he is going to do something, but we keep waiting and waiting.”

Activists Frustrated
Social media lit up after the announcement.

Phoenix immigration lawyer and independent congressional candidate Jose Peñalosa called Obama “#deporterinchief.”

“Latino community officially thrown under the bus by Obama,” Erika Andiola, co-director of the DREAM Action Coalition, posted on Twitter.

Other immigrant advocates accused Obama of putting politics ahead of the lives of undocumented immigrants who have been deported in record numbers under his administration.

“Today, President Obama placed political calculations over the hopes and needs of immigrant communities,” said U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., who has been pushing Obama to “go big” on using his executive authority to protect as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation.

“He reneged on his own commitment in June to do what is right, and instead chose what is expedient, betraying the trust of some of the most vulnerable among us,” Grijalva said.

In June, Obama vowed he would take independent action on immigration by the end of summer after House Republicans had failed to take up a bipartisan immigration bill passed by the Senate in June 2013.

That legislation would have overhauled the nation’s immigration system and given millions of undocumented immigrants a chance to gain legal status and citizenship.

With September here and Congress returning to work this week after its five-week August break, millions of undocumented immigrants such as Esquivel had been expecting Obama to unveil his plans any day.

Despite weeks of speculation of a possible delay, their hope was buoyed when Obama said during a news conference on Friday in Wales that he was reviewing his options on immigration and expected “fairly soon” to decide his next steps.

But on Saturday, White House officials announced Obama won’t reveal his plans until the end of the year, after coming under intense pressure from fellow Democrats afraid he could ignite a Republican backlash that could cost congressional Democrats re-election in November.

The officials said Obama still plans to use his executive authority to “take significant steps to reform our broken immigration system.”

But they said “extreme politicization” of the issue by Republicans had forced Obama to wait until the end of the year.

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Daniel González and Dan Nowicki

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