Labor and religious leaders gathered Friday outside the federal building in downtown Sacramento to hail President Barack Obama’s administrative action on immigration as a step in the right direction and to call on Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform.
A coalition of organizations known as iAmerica also announced the launch of a website to help undocumented residents avoid falling prey to unscrupulous consultants as they seek to determine whether they qualify for the new program, Deferred Action for Parents, or the expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
The president moved Thursday to halt deportations for nearly 5 million undocumented immigrants, allowing them to “step out of the shadows,” Rosalinda Garcia, said through an interpreter during the afternoon celebration and rally. “Many of us are going to be able to work here legally.”
Obama’s action affects about 4 million undocumented parents of American citizens or legal permanent residents who have been in the country for at least five years. They would fall under a new program of deferrals, which would include authorization to work and would be granted for three years at a time.
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About 250,000 people could be affected by expanding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which shields from deportation those minors who were brought to the United States legally as children, to minors who arrived before 2010, instead of the current cutoff of 2007, and lift the requirement that applicants be younger than 31 to be eligible.
Antonio Campos, a member of Sacramento Area Congregations Together, said he and his wife are among those who will benefit from Obama’s directive allowing undocumented parents of children born in the U.S. to register with the government and receive authorization to work.
Campos said he and his wife came to the U.S. from Mexico in 1995 with an 11-month-old daughter, who is now 20 years old and a student at American River College. They also have two children, ages 17 and 18, who were born in the U.S.
Campos said he worked as a graphic artist and teacher in Mexico. He came to the U.S., he said, “because my rent was $1,600 and my salary was $1,200.” Here, he said, he owns a business that provides cleaning services for apartments.
Others had less reason to celebrate Friday, but they expressed hope that the president’s action would lead to further reforms.
Silvano Pedres, 45, and Lilian Ponce, 44, have each been in the U.S. about 10 years, they said through an interpreter. Pedres said he provided the only support for his family in Mexico. He worked as a cook at a restaurant until he suffered a work-related injury. With no children in the U.S., he will not benefit from the actions the president announced Thursday.
Ponce, who works as a janitor, also is supporting family outside the U.S. She has five children living in El Salvador, she said, but none in the U.S.
Yvonne Walker, president of the Service Employees International Union, Local 1000, said those advocating changes in immigration laws will continue to push for comprehensive reforms that include a pathway to citizenship.
“I can’t emphasize enough that this does not take the place of comprehensive immigration reform,” Walker said. With the steps taken by the president, she said, she expects more comprehensive reform to come rather quickly.
The immediate concern is to help those eligible to seek authorization under the new or expanded programs navigate the process.
The iAmerica website, iAmerica.org, notes that applications are not yet available, and cautions people not to be misled by false advertisements, or attorneys who charge large amounts of money and say they can file applications on behalf of clients.
The website advises people how to prepare for the application process, so they will be ready once the government announces official procedures. It lists necessary documents for proof of identity, proof of arrival in the U.S. and proof of immigration status. Walker said it may eventually include a list of certified vendors who can assist people with the process.
Call The Bee’s Cathy Locke, (916) 321-5287.