Jesus Torres Salayandia was driving a car with a suspicious number plate in Belton, a Kansas City suburb, in November last year when he was stopped by the police.
They discovered that there was more to the 21-year-old: he did not have a driving license and he couldn’t get one because he was an illegal immigrant, otherwise known as an undocumented person.
Jesus came to the US with his parents when he was four years old. He had been caught once before, when he was 16, but he had left the United States voluntarily and then sneaked back.
When he was arrested the second time, he said in an interview, he was in a holding centre with about five Kenyans and about 16 fellow Mexicans among other illegal immigrants.
Jesus’ case is typical of the illegal immigrants spared the pain of deportation after President Obama’s announcement last Friday that the US administration will not be deporting immigrants who were brought to the US as children.
Obama’s decision to stop the deportation of hundreds of thousands of such immigrants will rightly be celebrated, but with months to the presidential election, the political connotations cannot be ignored.
The decision is temporary and the immigrants remain undocumented because a bill that would have created a process to legalise some illegal immigrants’ status has refused to come unstuck in Congress.
Within hours of the announcement at the White House, the Washington Post reported it “could have far-reaching implications for the presidential race, and could complicate GOP (Republicans) efforts to make inroads among Latinos, a crucial constituency in key states Obama needs”.
Mitt Romney could also find it difficult to gain popularity with Latinos, as he was part of what the Washington Post described as “harsh immigration rhetoric” when the Republican candidates were tearing into each other in the race for the party ticket.
Asked for his reaction to Obama’s decision, Romney said it would make it difficult to come up with permanent and legal solutions to the predicament the children of illegal immigrants are placed in.
“I believe the status of young people who come here through no fault their own is an important matter to be considered and should be solved on a long-term basis so they know what their future would be in this country,” Romney said, according to The Huffington Post.
The immigration question represents the perpetual push-and-pull between Obama’s Democrats and the Republicans, who have used their majority in Congress to their advantage.
In the next few weeks, the Supreme Court will make a decision on yet another case that illustrates this never-ending argument; whether the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare” is legal.
An opinion columnist in The Economist said there’s a good chance the court would vote to strike down Obama’s most significant achievement as president, presenting a new round of difficulties for his bid at re-election.
All in all, the American electorate can expect more debate over Obamacare and the president’s directive on the deportation of immigrants in the coming months. The extent to which it will affect the close election will likely be known after the election.
Jesus got a one-year reprieve at the beginning of April. Obama’s directive means he can stay on longer, but still remain undocumented.
Mr Ngirachu is a Nation staffer on a training programme in the United States.