Immigrant families happy with Obama orders
• Immigration lawyer Jennifer Smith will have open hours at her office on Dec. 5 to answer preliminary questions about President Barack Obama’s executive orders.
• Attorney Ted Hess is hosting a community forum on the orders at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 3 at the Glenwood Springs Community Center.
When Elvia Araiza’s daughters were young, the family had an emergency plan. It wasn’t a fire evacuation plan, but instructions for what the girls should do if they came home from school and their parents were deported.
They never had to use it, and Rubi, who is a U.S. citizen because she was born here and is a junior at Basalt High School, hopes to go into engineering and business. Her older sister Anahi wants to do counseling for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
And now their parents can plan on being here to see those dreams come true under the executive orders that President Barack Obama announced last week.
The Araizas, who came to the United States 18 years ago from the Mexican state of Jalisco, are among potentially thousands of examples from Parachute to Aspen of how Obama’s orders will change the outlook and prospects for immigrants living here without documentation.
“We always had worry,” Elvia Araiza said told the Post Independent through an interpreter. “There was always fear of never knowing what’s going to happen.” Now, she and other immigrants told the PI, they can apply for better jobs and feel free to be more involved in their schools and communities.
The orders’ greatest impact is on “mixed” families — those with some members who lack permits or citizenship and others who are authorized to be here. For example, Elvia will be able to apply for a three-year work permit because Rubi is a citizen. The orders also expand eligibility for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — Obama’s earlier order covering so-called Dream Act children such as Anahi, who have lived almost their entire lives as Americans.
Marissa Molina, a Glenwood Springs High School and Fort Lewis College graduate covered by DACA who is in her first year of the Teach for America program in Denver, said Obama’s orders directly affect many of her ninth- and 10th-grade students.
The day after Obama’s announcement, many greeted her with hugs and tears in their eyes.
“They were so happy and asked that we talk about it in class,” Molina said.
The orders sparked her students’ interest in how the U.S. government works. They have asked to start the second trimester with a deeper look at the difference between an executive action and a piece of legislation.
Sophia Clark of Carbondale, community organizer for the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, said the orders, which include other changes, will benefit the entire region.
“It affects every aspect of life for people in mixed families,” she said. “It affects economic well-being by improving job prospects. We will see positive change with students who are citizens who worry about whether their parents will be home when they get out of school.”
Glenwood Springs immigration attorney Jennifer Smith said it will help businesses and financial prospects of immigrants by creating new avenues for work permits, a process now significantly backlogged.
“We are excited about being able to help more families participate in the economy and communities,” Smith said.
She cautioned immigrants that nothing can be done now. Rules and forms are expected to be available in 90 days for expanded DACA eligibility, and in probably six months for parents. Smith is among immigration attorneys nationwide warning immigrants not to give anyone money now.
Immigrants can educate themselves about the expected rules and be sure they have documents to prove continuous residency in the United States since Jan. 1, 2010.
The Araizas said that’s their plan for now. “We will inform ourselves first,” Elvia said.
She also said she looked forward to being able to travel openly and see siblings she’s not seen for 18 years, two in Mexico and one in Texas. “I don’t know their children,” she said of nieces and nephews.
Daughter Anahi, though, noted that many immigrants are left out and will be forced to remain in the shadows, including her best friend’s family.
Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario is among those concerned about the potential impact of the orders.
Besides his belief that Obama is exceeding his authority, he worries that more people without authorization to be in the country ”will migrate to the region since the word will spread that the U.S. is granting amnesty.”
“That may not be true, but it will be interpreted that way across Mexico and Central and South America,” he said. “We may see an increase in criminal behavior, gang activity, domestic violence and other common crimes if the wrong elements migrate here.”
He said constraints placed on federal immigration authorities by executive orders has made enforcement difficult.
“That’s unfortunate because even with the best intentions of this new mandate, criminal aliens will remain in our community and nobody, even the communities that will be able to take advantage of these new orders, wants that,” Vallario said.
However, he added, the changes might make victims feel more comfortable reporting crimes since they are no longer subject to deportation. “That would actually benefit the entire community,” the sheriff said.
Yesenia Arreola of Carbondale, who works as youth outreach coordinator at Colorado Mountain College, said the immigration system is outdated and Obama’s orders are merely a “political Band-Aid.”
The orders do not provide permanent solutions.
“The next president has to have this in their agenda to address the millions of people who are protected — and what will be done with the ones who are unprotected,” said Arreola, who was undocumented herself until 11th grade, when an executive order by former President George W. Bush enabled her father to attain permanent residency and created a path to her citizenship.
“This is only the beginning. It’s a call to action,” Arreola said.
In Parachute, Claudia Ramos has grandchildren ages 6, 3 and 2 who are citizens. Obama’s orders will allow her son and his wife to apply for work permits. The family came to America from Jalisco in 2005.
“It’s more than home,” she said of the United States through an interpreter. “We came from a place with much insecurity. This country allowed us to provide for our family.”
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