×

Presidential candidates don’t get it on immigration

A year ago today, I came out of the undocumented closet. I revealed in an article that I had been undocumented for over a decade, including some of the years I spent climbing the corporate ladder at Goldman Sachs.

Julissa Arce
Source: Vincent Remini
Julissa Arce

By the time I was 27 years old, I was a vice president, at arguably, the most prestigious investment bank in the world. I had seemingly achieved the American Dream and yet, I was not legally part of the country I love. The only country I truly know. After watching the film "Documented," I was inspired to share my story to help shift the conversation around immigration and what it means to be American. The story went viral. My life was changed forever as a result of sharing my story.

However, nothing else has really changed. In fact, the conversation around immigrants and the broader Latino community has never been more mired in political gamesmanship, filled with hatred and bigotry, resulting in absolutely nothing.

While I am now a U.S. citizen, my sister, a business owner and part of the fastest growing segment of job creators in the U.S., Latina entrepreneurs, is still in limbo as the fate of the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans awaits its day in the Supreme Court. DAPA, which would grant "deferred action status" to certain undocumented immigrants and undocumented parents of U.S. citizen children, would give my sister a work-permit and protection from deportation. She would not be receiving amnesty, or a path to citizenship. She is a mother of four U.S.-born American citizens who, like me, will never consider, any other nation as their home. And then there is my mother, whose tourist visa was revoked at the Texas border for having a U.S. born son. She also sits within the first circle of hell waiting for her 10-year ban to end so she can be with her family – united and unafraid.

From the outside, it might seem like my life is in perfect order. My first book, "My (Underground) American Dream," is being published on Sept. 13. The rights to the book have been optioned to America Ferrera's Take Fountain Productions to develop the book into a TV series. I continue to live the American Dream. I also continue to live in fear -- for my sister, for my nephews, for my mother and for the millions of lives that are at stake because there isn't the political will in our nation's capital to do what we must, even though a variety of experts have argued that comprehensive immigration reform would be a boon for our national economy.

Immigration reform would strengthen our national security and enhance our global competitiveness by training and keeping the next generation of innovators here in the U.S. instead of sending them back to their countries of origin so they can compete against us. Despite all of the arguments to take action, one year later, Republican leaders have dug in even more than before in direct opposition to any action on immigration.


"When presidential candidates call for mass deportation of immigrants, they are overlooking the millions of Latino children in mixed-status homes who live in fear that one day their parents will simply not come home from work."

I recently asked my 11-year-old nephew, Pablo, how he felt about being Mexican-American in the U.S., and he replied: "It makes me sad, because people tell a lot of lies about us."

The lives that are at stake are not just of the immigrants we like to blame for all of our country's problems. The lives that are at stake are those of our own children -- the children who are the future of America.

When presidential candidates call for mass deportation of immigrants, they are overlooking the millions of Latino children in mixed-status homes who live in fear that one day their parents will simply not come home from work. Instead of being moved to action by their plight, these children are continually exploited for political gain as presidential candidates fight over who would end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (a program that grants a reprieve for undocumented immigrants in the U.S. before their 16th birthday) and put a final stop to DAPA.

Adding insult to injury, even when the issue is taken out of Congress' hands and left to our Supreme Court to decide, Republican leaders in the Senate would rather abandon their constitutional responsibility and allow our highest court to operate at less than full capacity instead of confirm the critical ninth justice to the bench. This inaction jeopardizes the chances for a full and complete resolution of many important issues, not just immigration. Perhaps they are unaware, or worse, perhaps they fully understand that they are sending a message loud and clear -- Latinos are disposable and unwelcomed.

A year ago, I was hopeful and excited. I shared my story to help advance rights for immigrants, to break-down stereotypes and to shift the conversation from a political one to a human rights one. But I have failed. A year later, DAPA has not been implemented. We are still calling human beings, illegal aliens. We still view immigrants as threats rather than assets. My sister has not seen our mom in almost 10 years. My nephews fear that their mom and dad may suddenly disappear and my sister runs her business knowing that any day it could be shut down because of her immigration status.

Despite the awful rhetoric, I remained optimistic that the Supreme Court would make a favorable ruling on DAPA. A favorable ruling that could lead to my family being reunited for the first time in over 20 years. A ruling that would mean my sister can grow her business. A ruling that would ensure my nephews can do their homework without fear in their eyes.

This election cycle has been one of the most polarizing in the history of our country. It is also the first time I will be eligible to vote in a presidential election. I am paying attention.

With more than 50,000 Latinos becoming eligible to vote every month our entire community is paying attention to the candidates and to a Congress that has focused its energies on the politics of obstruction, and we are ready and eager to vote.

We have a message that we want to send as well: The principles and guiding light of our nation which embraces our immigrant heritage will continue despite efforts by the few, the extreme and the loudest to snuff it out.

Commentary by Julissa Arce, the author of the forthcoming book, "My (Underground) American Dream" (Sept. 13, 2016). Arce made national and international headlines when she revealed that she had achieved the American Dream of wealth and status working her way up to vice president at Goldman Sachs by age 27 while being an undocumented immigrant from Mexico. Follow her on Twitter @julissaarce.

For more insight from CNBC contributors, follow @CNBCopinion on Twitter.