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For ‘Undocuqueer’ Youth, Obama Inspires Cautious Optimism

Posted: Jun 20, 2012

“Marco, we’re getting papers! We’re getting papers!” It was 7:45 a.m. on Friday and I was waking up to my roommate screaming at the top of his lungs. In the midst of this confusing statement, I was alarmed by the incoming notifications on my phone: my email inbox, Twitter feeds, Facebook updates, and text messages were blowing up. President Barack Obama had announced that he would bring the deportation of undocumented youth to a halt.

For many of us undocumented youth across the nation, the news caused a wave of cheering, hugging and tears of joy.

In a meeting later that day with 150 undocumented leaders from all over the country -- part of a national project organized by the UCLA Labor Center and the United We Dream network to provide internships for undocumented youth -- an immense sense of triumph filled the room. After years of fighting for social justice, our needs had finally been acknowledged. We chanted, “Sí se puede! Sí se puede!” It was all an immediate reaction to the news of temporary relief from deportation and eligibility for work permits for many undocumented youth.

Like his declaration last month in support of same-sex marriage, Obama has taken on a political issue that for many of us is very personal.

Many activists at the forefront of undocumented youth movement have come out as "undocuqueer": queer and undocumented. For us, Obama’s recent announcements are more than a political tactic that could give him an increase in Latino or LGBT votes; it’s our life that is on the line.

But the victory is bittersweet. Just like Obama’s support of same-sex marriage, this announcement only goes so far.

Even as Obama's new policy has brought much to rejoice over, it won't grant undocumented youth a path to permanent residency or citizenship. As many undocumented activists across the nation continue to make their status visible, there are those less fortunate who have aged out and will not be able to enjoy the opportunities of this policy. Even for those who qualify, the change represents only a temporary two-year deferment of deportation. What will happen to these young people after the two years are up is unknown. We’re still left in limbo; we’re basically still in the same place that we were to begin with.

Over the years there have been countless efforts by undocumented youth who have fought for their rights, and for the passage for the DREAM Act, a federal bill that would provide qualifying undocumented youth a path to citizenship. Such national efforts have led many undocumented activist to put their lives in the United States at risk by making their status visible and sharing their stories. Alongside these narratives, several acts of civil disobedience have also served integral to pressuring Obama to take the issue of DREAMers more seriously in his immigration reform policies.

As we celebrate Obama’s public stand towards a national shift in immigrant rights, we must acknowledge those who made this movement part of our daily life -- the many undocumented leaders continuing to move and inspire us who have helped create a new understanding of the complexities present within undocumented youth in America.

And as we continue to seek justice we are left with concerns that this policy has presented for our undocumented immigrant communities. We're left to ask if this political rhetoric has really acknowledged the monumentous acts of courage of many undocumented leaders.

For us “undocuqueer” youth, Obama’s announcement last week deferring the deportation of undocumented youth, and his statement last month supporting marriage equality, are only small steps toward our larger need -- to be seen as being part of this country, with the same rights as any other American.

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