Today my family and I find ourselves in a better country. No doubt in our minds.
As one of the millions of immigrants in this country illegally who hope to benefit from President Barack Obama’s directive on immigration, his decision means that my family will not live in fear — no longer frightened by the threat of deportation. The president’s action, while not a permanent protection or a path to citizenship, is the best opportunity in years for immigrants here illegally like myself.
Like many others, I crossed the Southern border with a child, my then-5-year-old daughter.
I came here illegally because there were few, if any, economic opportunities in my native Mexico. I was a lawyer and a single parent who could not afford to pay for my daughter’s schooling and cover the medicines for a sick brother with the $150 a week I earned.
I have been in the United States since 1999, and for nearly 15 years I have worked cleaning houses. It takes me 21/2 hours to get to work in Brooklyn from my home in Babylon Town. The commute is physically draining, but I don’t have a choice. I can’t work legally in the United States despite my education and legal skills.
My two daughters, my husband and I awaken every day with the fear that I will be deported. My husband and youngest daughter are U.S. citizens — which is why I should be eligible for legalized status under the president’s order. My oldest daughter benefited from the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which offered a temporary reprieve from deportations.
But I remain illegal in this country and, as my 7-year-old daughter’s principal caretaker, I’ve agonized about what would happen to her if I were sent back to Mexico. The fear immigrants like me live under is suffocating, and politicians who have vilified families like mine fail to understand our plight.
When I started working, my wages were often stolen by employers and I was sexually harassed. But I never reported any of it because I dreaded my immigration status would be used against me. I had no sense of security. I have seen immigration officials working on Long Island, and I felt helpless knowing that I could be detained and deported at any time.
Today, that worry has somewhat eased. The president’s directive ends the looming nightmare of being separated from my family. And I will ultimately be able to work legally in this country and apply for better-paying jobs that reflect my skills and education. In turn, that will help me provide the opportunities I dream about for my children.
Still, as families like mine celebrate, it’s important that Long Islanders understand that this is not the solution to our wrecked immigration system. The president’s action will provide temporary protection, but not a path to citizenship. And millions of families — those in which no children are U.S. citizens — won’t be included in this program, meaning they will keep facing the same fear under which I’ve lived for years. For instance, my second brother, who lives in New York and is here illegally, will remain excluded from the new program.
Ultimately, we must overhaul our nation’s immigration system, including a path to citizenship. I have fought for that solution with Make the Road New York, a local community organization, including protesting with my family in Washington.
The president’s order is a welcome step to protect families like mine. We have contributed greatly to our communities through hard work and commitment to our families — precisely the values upon which this country stands.
Our families deserve respect, dignity and security.
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