Obama's expected immigration announcement is being greeted with mixed emotions

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Marco Werman: I’m Marco Werman and you’re listening to The World. Everyone agrees that the US immigration system is broken. You hear that from both the right and the left in this country. Yet immigration is turning now into the first big left versus right partisan battle since the November 4th elections. Tonight, President Obama unveils his much anticipated executive orders on immigration. He’s expected to shield as many 5 million immigrants from deportation. Angry republicans say Obama is exceeding his powers and they’re vowing to hit back hard in Congress. We’ll see. One person who will be watching the president’s speech very closely tonight is Sofia Campos. She’s an immigration activist and a graduate student at MIT, not far from our studios here in Boston. You are undocumented, born in Peru. How did you and your family come to the US?


Sofia Campos: We came here on a plane, we came here on tourist visas, and at some point in my childhood, those visas expired and I didn’t learn about that until I was 17-years-old and in my senior year of high school.


Werman: That’s kind of a late stage in life to learn that you are undocumented. What was the whole process of finding out like and how did that feel?


Campos: It’s not an uncommon struggle, experience. I tried to apply for college, and in that process you learn about FAFSA, federal financial aid, and for that application, you need to use your 9-digit social security number. So, my counselor told me to go home and ask my parents for that number. When I did, my mom just looked at me with these really big, fearful eyes and said “You don’t have one. None of us do, and we’re undocumented.” I didn’t know what undocumented meant, but I knew it was bad because of that look in her eyes. I went back to my counselor, told them I didn’t have that 9-digit number, and he told me that I should settle for community college because I wasn’t going to be able to afford anywhere else. Then my parents said “No, we’re going to go to UCLA together, you’re going to make it somehow, some way”; I had gotten accepted to UCLA already. They used all of their savings to pay for that first quarter of my undergraduate.


Werman: You personally did not have and don’t have any family who have been deported, correct?


Campos: Correct.


Werman: But when you found that out, you must have immediately thought suddenly “Wow, maybe now we are all at risk of being deported.” Was that going through your mind?


Campos: I learned about that after I got to know more undocumented people, to be honest. Before I found out about my undocumented status, I never knew much about immigration. I didn’t look out for it in the news, I didn’t look out for it in life. After I found out I was undocumented though, I found IDEAS at UCLA, which is an undocumented student support group, and I found out about other undocumented youth who had gotten to UCLA and had experienced tremendous struggles, had crossed the border when they were 14-years-old with their little siblings on their own, and had many family members deported. So, even though I haven’t had any blood family deported, I’ve definitely had a lot of chosen family deported, and friends and family of that chosen family deported. So, it is a very real experience for me too, and that pain and that depression, and that family separation is something that is very real for all of us in our community, whether you’ve experienced it firsthand or not.


Werman: What’s in the offing then with the address from President Obama for you personally? What are you hoping to hear? Will there be any relief for you? Will the pressure be eased somewhat?


Campos: Definitely. Like I said, at this point, I’m fighting for immigration liberation, I’m fighting for our rights, I’m fighting for something much bigger than citizenship. What the president is going to announce today is a direct result of all the civil disobedience, all the organizing that we’ve been putting in for years now. He is not going to provide anybody legal status. That is something to clarify, which a lot of times the media has been misinforming people and misleading people about. The only thing he is going to do is provide and extend relief to certain people, and it’s going to be a limited number of people. My parents are likely to be left out of that relief, even though many undocumented young people and I have been at the front lines of this struggle.


Werman: And you were born in Peru, so will you be a beneficiary of that relief?


Campos: I was able to benefit from the Deferred Action Program announced in 2012, which was also a result of our organizing. So, the president is not doing anything new tonight. He is extending a program that already exists and he is responding to the demands that we have been putting out there, and he is doing something completely within his realm of possibility as the president of the United States.


Werman: Sofia Campos is a graduate student at MIT who also happens to be undocumented. Many immigrants, documented and undocumented, will be watching President Obama’s announcement tonight, and so will we. We’ll be live tweeting as the president speaks. Follow along @GlobalNation, and join the conversation using the hashtag #WorldWatches.