Central Valley Undocumented Immigrants See Hope In Obama Action

Six years ago, Rosa Acevedo left her daughter Moraina, 3, at home with her parents in Mexico so she could chase her American dream of earning $8.25 to $9.25 an hour picking grapes, strawberries and tomatoes in the San Joaquin Valley.

Though she lacks legal immigration status, Acevedo, 27, has supported her extended family in Mexico with money earned as a United Farm Workers laborer in fields near Stockton. Now, as a result of Thursday’s executive action by President Barack Obama, she has a reprieve from deportation and temporary permission to stay and work in California.

Under Obama’s directive, Acevedo and her husband, farmworker Jaime Roque, 37, are eligible for protected status because three years ago Acevedo gave birth to a son, Elian, at a local hospital after toiling in nearby fields for the first eight months of her pregnancy.

Because their son is a United States citizen, Acevedo and her husband are eligible to apply for work authorization for at least three years. Republicans are furiously blasting the Obama plan, which includes suspending deportation for undocumented parents of children who are American citizens or have been legal permanent residents for at least five years.

Acevedo is ecstatic.

“This is something that gives so many of us in this situation hope,” she said Thursday. “This changes everything. We won’t live in constant fear of being deported.”

The announcement left Acevedo wondering whether it was safe go back to Mexico to visit her daughter, to hold the little girl she hasn’t seen for six years. “This has been so difficult because we’ve lost so much together,” she said.

The president’s actions are expected to allow as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants to seek protection from deportation if they have been in the country for five years and have no felony criminal offenses or serious misdemeanors. The president, meanwhile, pledged accelerated deportations of criminal offenders.

Michael Rushford, president of the Sacramento-based Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, which advocates sealing the U.S.-Mexico border, said the president’s plan wouldn’t have done anything to save the lives of two Sacramento-area law enforcement officers recently slain by an undocumented immigrant suspect who re-entered the country illegally multiple times.

“Cartel traffickers aren’t going to go and stand in the line to get into this program,” Rushford said. He added: “We have to make illegal immigrant criminals in this country suffer the consequences here, and then deport them behind a secure border.”

Kevin R. Johnson, dean of the UC Davis School of Law, said the president’s actions could mean as many as 1 million of the 2.6 million undocumented immigrants in California may qualify for temporary status and work permits.

He noted the plan could benefit people such as Juana Reyes-Hernandez, a Sacramento mother of U.S.-born children who became a national face for America’s immigration debate two years ago when she was jailed and placed in deportation proceedings after being arrested for trespassing while selling tamales for $1 each in front of a Walmart store.

“I think it’s going to benefit many parents in California, including the tamale lady in Sacramento … who lived in the country for a number of years, and who other than her immigration status was a law-abiding citizen,” Johnson said.

The Obama pledge to permit people to “come out of the shadows and get right with the law” includes expanding the pool of people eligible for work permits and deferrals from deportation under an earlier Obama program that offered protection for those who entered the United States illegally as children. Johnson said only one-fourth of the 1.8 million young people now eligible for the program have applied.

One of those was Angelica Garcia-Galvan, 21, of Sacramento, who came to California at age 2. In 2012, she obtained a two-year work permit under the initial Obama decree that allowed undocumented children to work as long as they were high school graduates or enrolled in school.

Garcia-Galvan is now a student at Sacramento City College, majoring in sociology, and was the first unauthorized immigrant to land a job in an on-campus counseling program that advises students on transfer requirements for four-year universities. Garcia, who plans to attend UC Riverside, recently got her two-year work permit renewed under Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program.

Garcia-Galvan said the program gave her a tremendous opportunity. Her two siblings also obtained work permits under DACA. But Thursday, Garcia-Galvan said he felt frustrated that Obama didn’t extend protections to her parents, who have been in California for nearly two decades. Her father works as a plumber and her mother earns a part-time living as a housekeeper and baby sitter.

Since Garcia-Galvin and her siblings aren’t U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents, her parents aren’t eligible for protection under his new executive order.

“I was hoping there would be something that will benefit my parents,” she said. “They are still in danger of deportation. It’s something that we fear: Being separated from one another just breaks all of our hearts. It’s something that tears families apart, not only emotionally but financially. I’m honestly disappointed he (Obama) isn’t considering parents who have no U.S.-born children.”

The Obama plan also won’t extend protections to the overwhelmingly undocumented workforce of 450,000 farmworkers in California’s $44 billion agriculture industry. But the United Farm Workers union said as many as 125,000 California farm laborers could benefit from provisions for parents of children who are American citizens or permanent residents and from expansion of the DACA program.

Stockton resident Juana Sanchez, 45, who has worked as a farmworker in California since 1999, can now apply for protected status because two of her children, Carlos Hernandez, 12, and Jennifer Hernandez, 10, were born in the state.

An older daughter, Maria Guadalupe Hernandez, 19, who came at 4 years old, has qualified for the DACA program and is now attending Delta College, studying to become a translator. Sanchez said Maria Guadalupe’s ultimate goal is to become a police officer in California – something that still can’t happen without Congress approving a pathway to permanent residency or citizenship.

But Sanchez, who has divorced and remarried, said her new husband – a fellow farmworker – doesn’t appear to qualify for any protections through the Obama executive action.

“I wish the president would give permission (to stay) for all of us who work in the fields,” said Sanchez, who earns $300 to $350 a week, depending on the quantity of tomatoes, onions or blueberries she harvests. “We do hard work, under the hot sun, amid dangerous pesticides to put products from the hands of campesinos into the hands of all the people.”

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