Obama Offers Hope at DNC But His Immigration Legacy is Mixed

By Thomas Kennedy

I remember watching then Senator Barack Obama speak at a campaign rally during a hot and sunny afternoon in 2007. At the time, I was an undocumented student fresh out of high school and uncertain as to where I would be accepted to college due to my status.

I grew up during the eight years of what I'd say was the disastrous presidency of George W. Bush, so I was impressed by Obama's delivery and demeanor. But I was particularly struck by his message, a call for change and hope that spoke to me at a time when I felt very vulnerable and insecure about my future.

Now at the end of his second term as president, I watched Obama speak again. This time, I was on the floor of the Democratic National Convention and I marveled once again at the power of his delivery and demeanor. But this time, I was struck by how far we've come as a nation even as we face an uncertain future. In his last convention speech as president, Obama called this year an "unusual election" in which a dangerous demagogue is vying for the presidency. It is clear to me, as it is to the President, that the hard fought gains made during the Obama years, fought with sweat and tears by real people pushing politicians to do the right thing, will be lost if Donald Trump wins the election.

President Obama went through a laundry list of his accomplishments throughout his two terms, such as his passage of healthcare reform, reduction of unemployment, marriage equality, and the nuclear agreement with Iran, among other successes.

Yet to my eyes, the country is still struggling with a myriad of issues from income inequality to police violence and we seemingly remain as divided as ever.

As a formerly undocumented immigrant who gained legal status through marriage in 2011, I have felt so many conflicting emotions and opinions regarding the Obama presidency.

My initial feelings of awe during his campaign gave way to the realization that Obama would not be the savior who would grant my family the immigration relief we so badly needed. I remember standing under the hot sun in 2010, alongside my mother, holding signs that read "Obama Deporter-In-Chief" as record number of deportations were happening across the country.

But my views about Obama and his administration's treatment of immigrants softened after his executive action to allow students in the U.S. to receive work permits and relief from deportation. I save much of my ire these days for Republicans, who have made it an art form to spew hateful rhetoric against immigrants. From Mitt Romney's comments about making life so hard for immigrants that they would self-deport to lawsuits stopping the president's actions that would have provided deportation relief to even more immigrants, it's no wonder that the Republican xenophobia against immigrants has devolved now into building a massive wall along the southern border, forcibly deporting 11 million undocumented immigrants and banning Muslims from entering the United States.

At the same time, we have seen Democrats further embrace the immigrant community. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, who supports comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship, promises to consider some kind of immigration reform within the first 100 days of her presidency.

There are those within our community who claim the Democrats have used this issue as a political football to score Latino votes and there might be substance to their claim, but I'm not going to take any chances that allow a proto-fascist who openly says he wants to deport my parents and break up my family to be elected. There's just too much at stake.

As Obama said Wednesday night, "Don't boo. Vote."

As I listened to the president speak, I considered the racist, obstructionist opposition he's had to face while governing. I thought of the challenges - and successes - of our democracy as he said, "That's who we are. That's our birthright - the capacity to shape our own destiny. That's what drove patriots to choose revolution over tyranny and our GIs to liberate a continent. It's what gave women the courage to reach for the ballot, and marchers to cross a bridge in Selma, and workers to organize and fight for better wages. America has never been about what one person says he'll do for us. It's always been about what can be achieved by us, together, through the hard, slow, sometimes frustrating, but ultimately enduring work of self-government."

As his speech ended, I reflected on the eight years of his presidency. They've been painful and rewarding, frustrating and energizing. We've achieved so much, yet we have so far to go. But it is clear that in order to go further, we must go together.

Thomas Kennedy is a writing fellow at the Center for Community Change Action and a writer for Law at the Margins. He is attending the Democratic National Convention this week in Philadelphia.