In East Bay, immigration reform gets lukewarm reviews
on November 21, 2014
As word spread through Richmond, Oakland and other East Bay cities with large immigrant populations of the President’s executive orders easing some restrictions of federal immigration policy, families and support groups affected by the new orders reacted with a mix of relief and disappointment.
“It’s not enough,” said Claudia Jimenez, a former member of the Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization (CCISCO) “because a lot of people have already been deported and a lot of families have already been separated.”
But Richmond city councilman-elect Eduardo Martinez disagreed. “I think it’s wonderful. We were waiting for [Obama] to do something forever and he finally made a move.” Martinez said he expected the president’s order to make it easier for workers and their families. “It will make a tremendous change in how immigrants in Richmond live their life.”
There are an estimated 2.6 million undocumented immigrants living in California.
The executive orders announced by President Obama Thursday night will defer deportations for up to 5 million undocumented people and make them eligible for temporary legal status and work permits. Those protected under the new regulation are parents of U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents who have been in the country for five years, and children who were brought into the U.S. illegally as of 2010.
On Friday morning, community leaders from the East Bay and immigrants rights groups rallied outside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) in San Francisco to voice their concerns and criticisms.
One by one, speakers came forward to say that, even though they might be eligible for the new program, many of their close friends or family members would not qualify.
“Obama’s plan is setting the bar so high, that only a few people actually do qualify,” said Alex Avana, a 27-year-old undocumented immigrant from Mexico and leader of the LGBT community in Northern California. As an immigrant who crossed the border in 2014, he does not qualify for Obama’s announced relief plan.
One of those attending Friday’s rally was the Reverend Deborah Lee, Executive Director of the Interfaith Coalition for Immigrants Rights, an East Bay community organization. “Of course, in some regards, people are very happy that there’s a new form of relief,” she said. “But they do not feel relieved because many people have friends and families who would not qualify.”
In Oakland, Centro Legal de la Raza, an organization providing legal counsel for undocumented immigrants, released a statement noting its’ concern that the changes will not affect “those individuals who are languishing in immigration detention centers.”
In Northern California, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) contracts with three detention centers: the West County detention facility in Richmond, Yuba County Jail in Marysville and the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center in Elk Grove.
There are currently 86 ICE detainees in Richmond’s West County facility awaiting hearings and possible deportation.
In his remarks Thursday night, President Obama described the reforms as focusing on “felons, not families,” and announced additional resources for border control, tighter background checks and deportations for immigrants with criminal backgrounds.
This kind of targeting concerned Deborah Lee, who added that “nobody’s identity should be defined by one moment in their history.”
Richmond immigration attorney Veronica Granillo, who was once undocumented herself but became a citizen after a long fight for residency, said of the President’s order: “I felt disappointed. It’s giving people false hope.” The deferrals ordered by the President do not include a path to full legal status or federal health benefits.
In his televised speech Thursday, the President underscored his announcement by urging the undocumented to “come out of the shadows” and “get right with the law.”
But Granillo said that coming out of the shadows to get a temporary resident permit was a risky bet, since three years later, that permit might not be renewed and by then “It’s up to the next President.” And, she said, “the next president will have a long list of who is illegal.”
In a written statement, Richmond city-councilwoman elect Jovanka Beckles welcomed the change in policy, but mostly withheld her praise. “Although it is a move in the right direction, it is clearly not the comprehensive immigration reform that many of us would like to see,” she wrote.
Said Eduardo Martinez; “People around here tell me in Spanish: “We believe in the American dream. They just want to have their chance at achieving the American dream.”
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