TIME portfolio

See What Undocumented Immigrants Carry Across the Border

Here are the ordinary objects undocumented immigrants take with them on their journey to the U.S.

Covering immigration issues can prove challenging for photographers – and not because access can be, at times, tough to obtain. Instead, image-makers such as Emanuele Satolli have to find new ways to depict immigrants’ hardship in a saturated visual landscape.

In 2007, when the Italian photographer lived in Guatemala, he realized that immigration affected the large majority of people he encountered. “Some are saving money to go North, others are enjoying their new houses after spending a few years in the U.S., while many women have to take care of their families after their husbands left for the U.S.,” he says. “I was impressed to see that immigration had such a strong [impact] on life there. And that’s why I wanted to dig deeper into this topic.”

Yet, he didn’t want to produce yet another series that depicted immigrants “crossing rivers or jumping on trains in their attempt to reach the American dream,” he says. “I had to try to find a new way to talk about this.”

And that new take came after reading a recent TIME LightBox article. “I was really inspired by [TIME’s International Photo Editor] Alice Gabriner’s post where she talked about how photo editors and photographers should work together to overcome visual challenges. In that post, she explained how [photographer] Alexandra Boulat tried to find a new way to talk about the Palestinian tragedy.”

That was in 2006, when Boulat, who had documented wars since the 1990s, had grown frustrated of “photographing endless scenes of violence in the same way she had for years, fearing that these pictures had lost their impact,” Gabriner wrote. “As a result, she began taking different kinds of pictures, focusing on the ordinary and details of normal life.”

The ordinary and the details can be found in Satolli’s images of Central American immigrants. “I was interested in the few things these immigrants bring with them on this perilous and long journey,” he says. One man carried with him a small Virgin Mary statue, hair gel and toilet paper, among other objects. Another brought an extra pair of shoes, a bible, toilet paper and a cell phone, while another traveled with only one pair of glasses so “he’d look like a local,” says Satolli.

The 35-year-old photographer met most of his subjects at La Casa del Migrante, a refuge run by Scalabrinian missionaries in the border town of Tecún Umán in Guatemala where immigrants can get help and rest for two or three days.

Now, Satolli, who continues his work on immigration, hopes that his simple, yet powerful images will help humanize undocumented immigrants. It’s an especially important goal he says, at a time when we’re inundated by images that are just the opposite—“in which [dramatic scenes] become ordinary”—and when immigration is likely to take a central role in U.S. politics this year and in 2016.

Emanuele Satolli is an Italian photojournalist based in Rome. TIME LightBox previously published his photo essay The World’s Deadliest Drug: Inside a Krokodil Cookhouse in 2013.

Mikko Takkunen, who edited this photo essay, is an Associate Photo Editor at TIME. Follow him on Twitter @photojournalism.

Olivier Laurent is the editor of TIME LightBox. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @olivierclaurent

Read next: The Best Pictures of the Week: Jan. 23 – Jan. 30

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Immigration

Government Tells Agents to ID Which Immigrants Not to Deport

Rosa Lozano, Lita Trejo, Ramon Romero
Rosa Lozano, left, translates the speech into Spanish as they listen to President Barack Obama announcing executive actions on immigration on Nov. 20, 2014 Alex Brandon—AP

Immigration agents have been ordered to ask undocumented workers if they qualify for Obama's new plans to avoid deportation

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) — The Obama administration has ordered immigration agents to ask immigrants they encounter living in the country illegally whether they might qualify under President Barack Obama’s plans to avoid deporting them, according to internal training materials obtained by The Associated Press.

Agents also have been told to review government files to identify any jailed immigrants they might be able to release under the program.

The directives from the Homeland Security Department mark an unusual change for U.S. immigration enforcement, placing the obligation on the government for identifying immigrants who might qualify for lenient treatment. Previously, it was the responsibility of immigrants or their lawyers to assert that they might qualify under rules that could keep them out of jail and inside the United States.

It’s akin to the Internal Revenue Service calling taxpayers to recommend they should have used certain exemptions or deductions.

The training materials apply to agents for Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. They instruct agents “to immediately begin identifying persons in their custody, as well as newly encountered persons” who may be eligible for protection from deportation.

One training document includes scenarios describing encounters between agents and immigrants with guidance about how agents should proceed, with a checklist of questions to determine whether immigrants might qualify under the president’s plans. ICE officials earlier began releasing immigrants who qualified for leniency from federal immigration jails.

Obama in November announced a program to allow roughly 4 million parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents to apply for permission to stay in the country for up to three years and get a work permit. The program mirrors one announced in 2012 that provides protection from deportation for young immigrants brought to the country as children.

A spokesman for Customs and Border Protection, Carlos Diaz, said immigrants caught crossing the border illegally remain a top priority for the agency. The training documents for border agents, he said, “provide clear guidance on immigration enforcement operations so that both time and resources are allocated appropriately.”

Crystal Williams, executive director for the American Immigration Lawyers Association in Washington, said the training will help filter people the government said should not be a priority anyway. She said the training marked the first she has heard of officers being directed to screen immigrants for potential leniency before they were arrested.

“Just because it’s a change doesn’t mean it’s anything particularly radical,” Williams said.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat and vocal supporter of Obama’s immigration plans, said having CBP officers screen immigrants out of the deportation line lets the government “move criminals and recent arrivals to the front of the deportation line. The emphasis now is on who should be deported first, not just who can be deported.”

A former deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department, John Malcolm, said the new instructions limit immigration agents.

“Agents are being discouraged away from anything other than a cursory view” of an immigrant’s status and qualification for leniency, said Malcolm, who works as a senior legal fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank in Washington.

Under Obama’s plans, the government is focused on deporting immigrants with serious criminal records or who otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety. For the most part, under the new policy, immigrants whose only offense is being in the country without permission aren’t supposed to be a priority for immigration officers.

While the administration has estimated that as many as 4 million people will be eligible for protection from deportation, the Congressional Budget Office estimated about 2 million to 2.5 million immigrants are expected to be approved for the program by 2017. As many as 1.7 million young immigrants were estimated to be eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, but since its 2012 creation only about 610,000 people have successfully signed up.

TIME Australia

Australia Court Rules the Month-Long Detention of Migrants at Sea Was Legal

Protesters hold placards at the 'Stand up for Refugees' rally held in central Sydney
Protesters hold placards at the 'Stand up for Refugees' rally held in central Sydney Oct. 11, 2014 David Gray—Reuters

The case brought attention to Australia's controversial immigration policy

Australia’s High Court ruled Wednesday that the nearly month-long detention of 157 ethnic Tamils from Sri Lanka aboard a sea vessel last year was legal under the government’s Marine Powers Act.

The narrow 4-3 decision means that the detainees, of whom 50 were children, will not receive damages for their alleged false imprisonment, according to the judgment summaries.

Hugh de Kretser, executive director of Australia’s Human Rights Law Centre, which formed part of the Sri Lankans’ legal team, expressed his disappointment with the decision.

“Incommunicado detention on the high seas is a clear breach of Australia’s international human rights obligations,” he said in a statement. “Unfortunately, today’s decision confirms that our domestic law allows the Government to breach those obligations.”

Liberal Party MP Scott Morrison, who held the post of immigration minister when the Sri Lankans were detained, tweeted his approval of the decision.

The Sri Lankans had boarded a boat in India last June but were intercepted 16 days later in the Indian Ocean by an Australian customs ship.

After weeks of being held on the ship, the group was transferred to the Curin detention center in Western Australia because the Indian government said they would consider taking them back, according to Reuters.

When the group refused to meet with Indian officials, they were moved to another immigration center, this time on the tiny South Pacific island nation of Nauru, where they will remain until their status as refugees is decided.

The ethnic Tamils were heading to Australia to claim refugee status, claiming they had a well-founded fear of persecution in Sinhala-majority Sri Lanka following the end of the island-nation’s bloody civil war in 2009.

The case highlights Australia’s controversial immigration policy in which immigrants are often processed at offshore camps in Papua New Guinea, Christmas Island and Nauru.

Canberra says the restrictions are in place for the safety of immigrants risking their lives to reach its shores by sea.

TIME Congress

Partisan Lines Drawn in Congress Over Immigration

John Boehner Holds Media Briefing At The Capitol
Speaker of the House John Boehner takes questions during a news conference on Capitol Hill on Jan. 16, 2014 in Washington, DC. Drew Angerer—Getty Images

Republicans prepare to sue the President, while Democrats join together against protest bill.

The deep divisions over illegal immigration were laid bare on Tuesday, as the House GOP discussed how to sue the President over his recent executive actions and Senate Democrats joined together to pressure the new Republican leadership to back down from controversial provisions in a must-pass spending bill next month.

Republicans have struggled to coalesce around a strategy opposing Obama’s November decision to temporarily defer deportations and provide work permits to up to five million people who entered the country illegally. Republicans led the effort to pass a short-term funding bill for the Department of Homeland Security—which enacted the President’s immigration actions—to increase their leverage with the new Republicans Senate.

But after every Senate Democrat signed a letter on Tuesday calling on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to pass a DHS bill for the remainder of the fiscal year without the House package’s immigration provisions—including one that would defund Obama’s 2012 program granting deportation relief to young adults who came to the country illegally as children—it’s clear Senate Republicans won’t be able to pass the House’s dream bill. Republicans only control 54 seats in the Senate; they need 60 to pass the bill and 67 to overcome a White House veto. Congress needs to pass a spending bill by February 27 or “nonessential” parts of the agency will shut down.

“The message we are sending today is clear: we should not play politics with critical homeland security resources that keep our country safe,” said New Hampshire Democrat Jeanne Shaheen, who helped orchestrate the Democratic letter. “Protecting our homeland from threats is one of our most important responsibilities here in Congress, and I hope Republicans will put aside partisanship to live up to this responsibility.”

After rejecting the Senate’s bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform bill in 2013, House Republicans said that will consider the issue in a step-by-step approach, starting with border security. But the House GOP leadership pulled its recent bill—led by chief sponsor and Texas Rep. Michael McCaul, who has branded it the “toughest” ever—on Monday due to the blizzard. While there was talk of attaching the bill to the DHS funding package, the bill’s status is now up in the air as conservatives claim credit for sidetracking it. DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson has said that the bill, which would set new penalties unless the agency prevents all illegal U.S. southern border crossings in five years, is “extreme to the point of being unworkable,” while the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office expects that the agency would be unable to meet the bill’s deadline requirements for “nearly all construction projects.”

Another option Republicans are considering is to sue the Administration over the President’s immigration executive actions. House Speaker John Boehner reportedly told colleagues on Tuesday that the leadership is “finalizing” plans to authorize litigation, but that effort will be time-intensive, potentially expensive, unlikely to address some conservatives’ concerns and could very well not hold up in court. Republicans on the Hill are not alone, however, as 26 states are protesting Obama’s executive actions through a lawsuit.

Last year before Obama announced his executive actions on immigration, Boehner warned Obama that he would “burn himself” if he proceeded. He has since decried the actions as unlawful and unconstitutional. But from here on, he may be left to speeches. After the Senate Democrats’ letter Tuesday, it’s as clear as it has ever been that Republicans have few good options to overturn what they believe is a massive executive overreach.

TIME Papua New Guinea

Hundreds of Asylum Seekers Are on Hunger Strike Over Australia’s Resettlement Plan

(FILE) Manus Island Detention Centre
In this handout photo provided by the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship, are seen facilities at the Manus Island Regional Processing Facility, used for the detention of asylum seekers who arrive by boat, primarily to Christmas Island off the Australian mainland, on Oct. 16, 2012, on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea Handout—Getty Images

Several are refusing water and have sown their lips shut

Nearly 700 detainees, or almost two-thirds of those held in an Australian offshore detention center on Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) Manus Island, are on hunger strike to protest Canberra’s plan to permanently resettle them on the island.

The hunger strike comes in the wake of a vow by Australia’s recently appointed Immigration Minister, Peter Dutton, that Manus Island detainees would “never arrive in Australia,” reports the Sydney Morning Herald.

During the past week, hundreds of detainees have abstained from food, and some from water, over the government’s plan to move them to the nearby town of Lorengau. As many as 14 have sown their lips together, the Herald says.

Visiting Australian medical staff and refugee rights groups say that health facilities on Manus Island center are not equipped to handle the hunger strike.

“They don’t have the capacity to handle a hunger strike of even one-tenth of that size,” said Doctors for Refugees member Barri Phatarfod.

[Sydney Morning Herald]

TIME Congress

Immigration Sours GOP’s Sweet Retreat

From left, Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., and Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., prepare to board a tour bus to join Senate and House Republicans at a two-day policy retreat in Hershey, Pa. on Jan. 14, 2015, in Washington.
From left, Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., and Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., prepare to board a tour bus to join Senate and House Republicans at a two-day policy retreat in Hershey, Pa. on Jan. 14, 2015 in Washington. J. Scott Applewhite—AP

The sour topic here at “The Sweetest Place on Earth” is immigration.

In Hershey, Pa., at the Republicans’ first dual-chamber retreat in 10 years, conservative and moderate members debated the right strategy to protest the president’s recent executive actions deferring deportations for up to five million immigrants who have come to the country illegally.

“I think we’ve not handled the [immigration] issue well,” said California Rep. Jeff Denham, who voted against a GOP amendment this week that would roll back the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which has temporarily deferred deportation for hundreds of thousands of young adults who were brought to the country as children.

“Just throwing DACA out there without having a reform bill I think brings great concern not only from the Senate colleagues I talked to but from the folks in my district I’ve talked to,” he said.

South Dakota Sen. John Thune, a member of the GOP leadership, reminded reporters that the “magic number” in the Senate is 60 when asked how the chamber would consider a House bill passed Wednesday that ties the immigration fight to funding the Department of Homeland Security past its Feb. 27 deadline. While House and Senate Republicans have the “same goals” on reining in Obama, Thune said that there “may be different ways and approaches to this issue.”

Meanwhile, House conservatives are proud of the bill passed in their chamber this week, which would not only negate the president’s November immigration executive actions, but also several others going back years, including DACA. Arizona Rep. Matt Salmon said that the House has a “very, very united front” on its immigration bill. He said that the overall message he is getting from leadership is “we’re going to work our will.”

“We’re going to work our will and we’re going to send it over and stop worrying on what can get to 60 out of the Senate,” he said. “If we do that with enough time to respond then it’s a good process.”

Top Republican congressional leaders acknowledged the need to address a broken immigration system, but specifics past border security are hard to nail down. House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul announced Thursday night that his committee will introduce “the most significant and toughest border security bill ever before Congress.” Oregon Rep. Greg Walden, the head of the National Republican Congressional Committee, acknowledged that the GOP needs a “a positive immigration plan for the country.” House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan said that more and more Congressmen are recognizing that Republicans can’t fix issues like immigration unless it wins the White House and said it was “premature” to talk about immigration reform legislation that could pass this Congress, as the conference continues to develop its agenda.

“We are a country of immigrants,” he said. “Immigration is good for America. It’s important for jobs, for economic growth. It’s just that we want to have legal immigration. We want to have the rule of law restored. We want to fix this broken immigration system. I think most members agree with that.”

Other House and Senate party leaders acknowledged that Republicans have not yet agreed upon a strategy to fund DHS and oppose the president’s immigration actions. After the House passed its bill, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid tweeted that the “pointless, political” bill wouldn’t get the necessary 60 votes in the Senate.

Ironically, as TPM and others have noted, the fee-funded program that processes deportation relief and work permits wouldn’t be nearly as affected in the case of a DHS shutdown as border security and deportation efforts—Republican priorities funded through the appropriations process.

TIME

House Votes to Overturn Obama’s Immigration Policies

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio walks to the House chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington on Jan. 14, 2015, as lawmakers gather for a vote to fund the Homeland Security Department but will curb President Barack Obama's executive actions on immigration.
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio walks to the House chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington on Jan. 14, 2015, as lawmakers gather for a vote to fund the Homeland Security Department but will curb President Barack Obama's executive actions on immigration. J. Scott Applewhite—AP

Obama has threatened to veto the legislation

(WASHINGTON) — The Republican U.S. House voted Wednesday to overturn President Barack Obama’s key immigration policies, approving legislation that would eliminate new deportation protections for millions and expose hundreds of thousands of younger immigrants to expulsion.

The 236-191 vote came on a broad bill that would provide nearly $40 billion to finance the Homeland Security Department through the rest of the budget year.

Democrats accused Republicans of playing politics with national security at a time of heightened threats, and Obama has threatened to veto the legislation. Prospects in the Senate look tough, too.

But House Republicans, in a determined assault on one of Obama’s top domestic priorities, accused him of reckless unconstitutional actions on immigration that must be stopped.

“This executive overreach is an affront to the rule of law and to the Constitution itself,” said House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio. “The people made clear that they wanted more accountability from this president, and by our votes here today we will heed their will and we will keep our oath to protect and defend the Constitution.”

But Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., accused Republicans of “viciousness” for trying to make it easier to deport immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. Rep. David Price, D-N.C., called the GOP effort “a political vendetta,” adding, “It’s a reprehensible, reckless tactic which will compromise, has already compromised, the full and effective functioning of our Homeland Security Department” at a time of heightened security risks.

The immigration measures were amendments on the Homeland Security bill.

One of them, approved 237-190, would undo executive actions that Obama announced in November to provide temporary deportation relief to some 4 million immigrants in the country illegally. A second amendment would delete Obama’s 2012 policy that’s granted work permits and stays of deportation to more than 600,000 immigrants who arrived in the U.S. illegally as children. That measure passed more narrowly, 218-209, as more than two dozen more moderate Republicans joined Democrats in opposition.

The changes Obama announced in November especially enraged the GOP because they came not long after Republicans swept the midterm elections, taking control of the Senate and increasing their majority in the House. Republicans pledged then to revisit the issue once Congress was fully under their control.

But even with Republicans in control of the Senate, the bill faces difficulty there, especially because House GOP leaders decided to satisfy demands from conservative members by including a vote to undo the 2012 policy that deals with younger immigrants known as “Dreamers.”

Republicans are six votes shy of the 60-vote majority needed to advance most legislation in the Senate, and even some Republicans in that chamber have expressed unease with the House GOP approach, especially given the importance of funding the Homeland Security Department in light of the Paris terrorist attacks.

Some House Republicans acknowledged that the Senate was likely to reject their approach, perhaps forcing them in the end to pass a Homeland Security funding bill stripped of controversial provisions on immigration.

“They’re not going to pass this bill,” said Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa.

Homeland Security money expires at the end of February so House leaders have left themselves several weeks to come up with an ultimate solution.

Immigrant advocates warned Republicans that Wednesday’s votes risked alienating Latino voters who will be crucial to the 2016 presidential election.

TIME Family

How to Talk to Your Kids About Immigration

Participants hold a banner during a demonstration called by anti-immigration group Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West (Pegida) in Dresden, Germany, on Dec. 15, 2014 Hannibal Hanschke—Reuters

News stories about the debate over the DREAM act, the tens of thousands of children who arrive unaccompanied in the U.S. each year and even the backlash against immigrants in Europe after the Charlie Hedbo killings can raise all kinds of questions and stir up all kinds of emotions for kids. This is especially true when they involve children being separated from their parents.

We talked with William Perez, Professor of Education at Claremont Graduate University and author of Americans By Heart: Undocumented Latino Students and the Promise of Higher Education, for his tips on starting good conversations with kids about immigration.

Elementary age kids won’t grasp the more abstract issues surrounding immigration, Perez says. So conversations with them can begin with the fact that almost everyone living in the U.S. today comes from a family of immigrants – including theirs. “A good start would be discussing their family’s history of migration to the U.S.,” he says. “Why did they first come? What were the conditions in the country of origin?” From there, the discussion can widen “to conversations about contemporary migration, and the reasons families decide to live in a new country.”

Middle school kids can wrestle with more complex issues, says Perez, so parents can encourage them to broaden their horizons, by “reading narratives from families of different backgrounds about their immigration experiences.” And all the stories don’t have to come from the pages of a book. Middle school is also a great time, says Perez, for students to start “asking friends, classmates, or extended family members about their migration experiences.” How did their friends’ families come to this country? What was the experience of their grandmother, grandfather, aunts and uncles?

High school students “should begin to understand how immigration policies affect immigrants and their families,” says Perez. Families can discuss questions like why do some states have pro-immigrant laws while others have anti-immigrant laws? Perez also suggests that high school students read news stories about immigration from different sources, regions, and countries. Parents can encourage them to absorb what they read by asking questions like “Do these sources talk about immigration in different ways? If so, how? And why?” (One place to start might be this story in New York about an immigrant family who works fast food jobs in Texas.)

The bottom line, according to Perez: make sure that kids understand that immigration didn’t stop at Ellis Island. “Teaching about the history of immigration is important,” he says. But it’s also very important to help kids connect that history and current policies to their families and community.

TIME Immigration

House Republicans Go Big on Immigration Fight

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) answers questions during a press conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 7, 2015.
Speaker of the House John Boehner answers questions during a press conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 7, 2015. Win McNamee—Getty Images

In a series of votes this week, the House GOP will protest nearly every major immigration executive action by President Obama in the past few years, threatening millions of immigrants who came to the country illegally with deportation.

The plan has no chance of passage; enough Democratic and moderate Republican senators have stated their opposition and the White House threatened to veto the bill on Monday. But a week after two-dozen Republicans voted to oust House Speaker John Boehner from his perch, the House GOP leadership has earned a respite of praise from conservatives and its rank-and-file for its approach in opposing the President and funding the Department of Homeland Security past its February 27 deadline.

“Clearly this is where we want to be,” said Florida Republican Rep. Tom Rooney, a member of the Appropriations Committee. “I want [Obama] to veto what we send up there so at least there is a clear distinction between what we think our constituents want to do versus what the president’s willing to do. Who’s responsibility is it now if DHS gets shut down? Is it the person who just vetoed it or is it the Republicans in the House who amended it to take his executive order out? I’d like to have that fight.”

“I voted for Boehner—and I haven’t been a big fan—but to his credit they’ve been reaching out,” said Arizona Republican Rep. Matt Salmon, noting that the 12 vote “toe-hold” another candidate for Speaker received was not due to his conservatives bona fides, but his message of inclusivity. “I think it’s symbolic of where we’re going to be…I think it’s very emblematic of the fact that leadership is actually listening to what we’re saying.”

The House GOP package, expected to be voted on Wednesday, would stop more than Obama’s most recent immigration executive actions temporarily delaying deportations for up to five million undocumented immigrants, including parents of U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident children for at least five years, by rolling back 2011 memos that expanded what immigration officials should consider in deferring deportations. Another amendment would defund a 2012 program that provides similar protection to hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought here illegally as children.

The strategy goes way beyond what was expected—simply, directly challenging the November White House actions—and is more likely to fail. But by voting on the package this week, the GOP leadership has given its members enough time to be on the record with their ultimate pipedream before having to recalibrate. It also may shift the House conservatives’ blame from their leadership to conservatives in the Senate.

“This is an opportunity for some of the people on the Senate side who are itching for a fight, like [Texas Republican Senator] Ted Cruz and others, to show what they can do,” says Salmon. When reminded that it’s clear the new GOP-controlled Senate can’t reach the requisite 60 votes, Rooney replied that it “kind of ticks me off, to be honest with you.”

The moves could further alienate Republicans from a Hispanic population that had been frustrated with a president who delayed his promises last year and oversaw a high level of deportation in his first six-years. However, House and even Senate Republicans have little political incentive to act on issues of Hispanic importance: The party would “probably” have held onto the House even if they lost every Hispanic voter in the midterms, according to a New York Times election analysis, and still have had a “real chance” to take over the Senate. Of course, it’s another story in taking back the White House, which would allow Republicans to roll back Obama’s executive actions with the stroke of a pen.

Boehner said on Tuesday morning that the debate over how to fund DHS is not about immigration, but about the president “acting lawlessly” and violating the “Constitution itself.” He also declined to tip his hand on whether or not he would allow a vote on a DHS funding bill without the aforementioned amendments before the February deadline.

“Our goal here is to fund the Department of Homeland Security,” said Boehner. “Our second goal is to stop the president’s executive overreach.”

Democrats ripped the Republicans’ package as poor policy and politics, noting that it was only a year ago when the House GOP announced its immigration principles, including legal residence and citizenship for children illegally brought to American “through no fault of their own.”

“I mean how do you go from that to this,” said Illinois Democrat Rep. Louis Gutierrez, a vocal immigration reform advocate. “It is much more extreme than anything I expected—and I expect almost anything from Republicans when it comes to immigration,” he added, before wondering aloud how “such a small band of Republicans” could “jeopardize” the party’s national positioning for a bill that wouldn’t become law.

TIME Culture

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Persian Food

spices-wooden-table
Getty Images

Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

My Iranian mother wanted me to cook recipes from the motherland. I wanted to be independent

My cavalier cooking practices have been a cause for shame and concern for my Iranian mother. To me, eating is just something you do to stay alive; for her and her legion of friends and family that grew up in the Motherland, cooking is a rite of passage to womanhood, the foundation of family and all things good in the world.

You know, everything a ready-made, heart attack-inducing Doritos Locos Taco is not.

So it comes as no surprise to find my mother one day standing by my open fridge grasping a small jar between her index finger and thumb.

“This is hell. I will put it on the side of the fridge, you know, in case you need it,” she says.

It’s just a coincidence that the name of this Persian staple spice—cardamom—is the same word for eternal fiery doom in English.

My mother has been sneaking in her favorite ingredients next to the Hershey’s chocolate syrup and the blue macaroni and cheese box in my kitchen ever since I began dating the man of her dreams, now my husband. Having grown up with his own Persian mother’s everything-fresh-from-scratch cooking, he wouldn’t mind eating a meal that’s not from a box. So the more serious we got, the less subtle her hints. She graduated to telling me, “You seriously need to learn how to cook. It’s not funny.”

Because her comments implied that cooking meant keeping a man, I was very adamant about never lifting a pan. Cooking in this cultural context seemed primitive, sexist, and totally un-American. Where did I get this idea? From my mom who, ironically enough, preached to my sister and me the importance of women procuring financial and personal independence and security through education, privileges she didn’t have growing up in Iran.

Still, I understood where she was coming from. In my mother’s Tehran, it literally “took a village” to raise and maintain a family. The older generation provided food for the burgeoning family, and food was a community affair where everyone helped with the preparing, cooking, and eating. One of my distinct memories from childhood in Iran in the late 1980s is the women in my family cleaning and stemming herbs for rice and stews at our house. Sitting around with their fingers plastered with wet dill and their mouths running with the daily gossip, they were a less sexy version of Sex and the City.

My family moved to Los Angeles in 1991 after a pit stop in Austria for a few months to get our papers together. Or, more specifically, we moved to the enclave known as Tehrangeles where Iranians—especially Iranian Jews—settled after the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

But in L.A., I saw less and less of the chattering relatives, partly because they probably got sick of my mom giving them chores. But also because no one has the luxury or time to sit around stemming herbs all day when there are errands to run, e-mails to send, and nails to be manicured.

The idea was to adapt to American life enough to get by, but still speak, breathe, act, and eat Persian. Which led to a lot of awkward conversations at the school cafeteria explaining my pungent green stew to my friend with the crustless PB&J. And every Friday night, we always had to have the Thanksgiving-size Shabbat dinner, complete with the angry drunk uncle who asked the same questions every time (“How much money are you making writing? That’s horrible. You should go into real estate.”)

Starting a family of my own, I’m trying to reconcile this need to connect through food with the American notion of independence and can-do-it-all attitude. While I do need some guidance and appreciate when my mom brings over the occasional leftover split pea stew or herb quiche, I don’t want to come home to a tower of Tupperware in my refrigerator. The constant parade of handouts from my mom make me feel as if I’m failing as a nurturing wife and mother, roles I had totally been reluctant to take on yet will be damned if I don’t succeed at them.

So I decided it was time to add cooking to my repertoire. I mean, how hard would it be to buy some ingredients, mix them together, and throw them in a pot to cook if it meant so much to my family? Between Google and the TV, I was confident I could figure it out. I announced to my mother that I was cooking a traditional Persian meal for my husband. “That’s great, azizam,” she said, in a sort of God-I-hope-you-have-a-fire-extinguisher-handy sort of tone. “Let me know how it goes.”

I searched “dinner recipes,” then “easy dinner recipes” and finally “really super duper easy dinner recipes” and was overwhelmed by the number of ingredients, steps, and verbs. How do you zest a lemon? Dredge individual mint leaves with sugar? What the hell does dredge mean, anyway? Just doing the measurements alone seemed to require a Ph.D. in calculus. It occurred to me that I had never seen my mother use a measuring cup or an oven mitt.

I was not going to solicit help from my mother, so it was fortunate I remembered that someone had once given us a beautiful Persian cookbook called Food of Life. I swiped the dust off its cover and was delighted to find that it was a literary nerd’s dream come true. Besides recipes, there were pieces of Persian poetry, art, and stories.

“If wheat springs from my dust when I am dead / And from the grain that grows there you bake bread, / What drunkenness will rise and overthrow / With frenzied love the baker and his dough—” is Rumi’s erotic take on baked goods.

Excited at seeing my favorite recipe in English, I braved the long list of at least two dozen ingredients and committed myself to making rice meatballs.

It took me two days to prepare and make these meatballs. I shopped at Trader Joe’s for ingredients I recognized (eggs, rice, tomato paste). I headed to “Persian Square”—an area of Westwood Boulevard where the Iranian version of every business has a storefront—for those I did not.

At Sun Market, the couple running the place was happy to see “a young person” take interest in her native food. They helped me find everything I needed and threw in some unsolicited advice while they were at it (“You really should learn how to read Persian”).

So finding advieh—a mixture of cardamom, cinnamon, rose petals, nutmeg, and cumin—green plums, and summer savory was not really an obstacle. Putting them to use was.

When I was done chopping, slicing, rinsing, boiling, and whatnot, the kitchen was a CSI murder scene. There were grains of rice and petals of herbs on every exposed surface, including the stove, tiles, floor, and sink. Dante’s “Inferno” would have made a more suitable excerpt than Rumi’s poetic fancies.

My husband was grateful for the effort. He ate carefully, as if to detect poison before it was too late. Having taken one look at my disheveled exterior, he couldn’t fathom why I’d go through all the trouble. But it wasn’t really about him.

I wish this experience had made me fall in love with cooking. But at least I no longer found it synonymous with the Dark Ages. I had now tried on my mother’s shoes and saw what an ungrateful brat I’d been. I understand there’s an art driven by love for family and the incessant desire to feed and nurture them. I’m happily going to taken them up on their offers to bestow leftovers and swallow my pride until I get the hang of basic kitchen measurements.

That’s the paradox my mother embraced all these years slaving over elaborate meals while preaching the importance of prioritizing education, career, and independence: You can strive to have it all. Doesn’t mean you will, or that you’ll be good at it, but you can and should try because you have the freedom to do so. And that’s the luxury of being an American: not settling for one identity, especially if you’re a woman.

She was beyond amused when I recounted to her the tale of the rice meatballs. One day, to encourage me, she came over with a new bottle. “This is zaferoon. In America it’s called ‘saffron.’ It’s originally from Iran, where the best zaferoon in the world comes from. Ask anyone. Even Americans.” She pauses to make sure I’m watching her. “I’ll put it right here, you see? Next to the string cheese.”

Orly Minazad is a freelance writer and essayist in L.A. covering arts, culture, and everything in between. She wrote this for What It Means to Be American, a partnership of the Smithsonian and Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser