CHICAGO, Illinois - President Obama recently announced the United States would stop deporting undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children. A Pew Research Center study says the shift in policy could help about 1.4 million people currently living illegally in the U.S., including one young woman in Chicago of Palestinian descent.
Alaa Mukahhal was born in Kuwait to Palestinian parents. When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, Mukahhal and her family fled to Jordan. They obtained visas to enter United States in 1993, where they arrived when Mukahhal was six years old.
"The visa expired, and we stayed," explained Mukahhal. Since then, she has lived as an undocumented immigrant, existing in the shadows of society.
When this reporter first met Mukahhal, she was going door to door in suburban Chicago to encourage Muslim Americans to vote in the 2010 mid-term elections, a privilege she is denied. At the time, Mukahhal did not share much personal information, out of fear of deportation. She was even reluctant to give her name.
"I wasn’t sure what the consequences were," said Mukahhal. "I didn’t know what would have happened. I was scared to be honest. And I hadn’t found that community of support that I needed. Lots have changed since that original interview.”
Mukahhal is now out of the shadows to tell her story publicly, thanks in part to President Obama’s promise to stop deportation proceedings against illegal immigrants like her.
"I was a bit surprised, but mostly skeptical, so I like to describe myself right now as cautiously optimistic," she said.
"The very fact that he did it was very important," said Anthony Orum, a visiting professor at the Center for Urban Research at Loyola University in Chicago. "I understand the skepticism, you know, 'Is this going to go through?' You know if Congress worked better, the Dream Act would have gone through, but things have been stalemated there, 2009, 2010, 2011. The president had to do something."
Orum says the president’s announcement will likely help his re-election effort in Florida and other states with large immigrant populations.
But Mukahhal says the announcement alone won’t help her. She faces a federal judge in Chicago in September, who will decide if she can seek political asylum to prevent her deportation to Jordan.
"I applied for asylum based on the fact I was Palestinian with Jordanian citizenship," she said. "There was a Human Rights Watch report saying that there’s been recordings of Palestinians going back to Jordan being stripped of their citizenship."
Mukahhal hopes the president’s policy is implemented by then, which could help keep her in the United States if her asylum petition is denied.
US Immigration Laws