It has been four years since West Haven High School senior Suidy Jimenez lived with her mother, and two years since she has seen her. It has been five months since her mother was arrested for trying to cross the border, then put into a Houston detainee facility. To Jimenez, President Barack Obama’s executive order on immigration, announced last night, is a beacon of hope.
“I can name many occasions where I wish I could have my mother near me, cheering me on,” Jimenez said. “It’s very frustrating, because there’s nothing we can actually do but pray and seek legal assistance.”
In a nationally televised speech last night, Obama announced that undocumented immigrants will be eligible to apply to stay in the U.S. for a period of three years without fear of deportation, provided they fulfill certain requirements. They must have lived in the U.S. for more than five years, have children who are American citizens or legal residents, pass a criminal background check and be willing to pay their taxes in full. Those who satisfy these requirements will be granted Social Security cards.
“The important thing is not so much this speech but the movement,” said Megan Fountain ’07, Unidad Latino en Acción organizer. “These are the speeches that they’ve prepared for the media, so there are certainly details that are underneath this speech.”
Fountain went on to suggest that the Obama administration should ensure that Immigration and Customs Enforcement does not collaborate with police departments that have committed civil rights violations. In New Haven, police do not check whether an individual they detain is an undocumented immigrant or not.
The executive order does not apply to those who have recently come to the U.S., nor those who come to this country illegally in the future. In addition, the directive does not grant the right to stay permanently or define a path to American citizenship. Only Congress has the power to make such a law, Obama said.
But for many undocumented immigrants living in New Haven — a city that has long been among the most welcoming of immigrants — the specific ways in which the executive order will impact their lives is still uncertain.
The Elm City is currently home to around 14,000 undocumented immigrants, according to Mary Buchanan of DataHaven. It remains unclear just how many will still be at risk of deportation under Obama’s executive action.
“From the perspective of the legal system, there are many problems of the way that the immigrants are treated,” said Elliot Friedman LAW ’15. “[The executive order] is clearly a step in the right direction, and it’s also obviously by its own terms limited.”
On Thursday night, a group of Yale students, immigrants and community members gathered at La Casa Cultural to watch Obama’s address.
Fatima Rojas, who came to the U.S. from Mexico 11 years ago and worked for many years as a janitor receiving only $4.50 an hour, said that when she heard the news that she would not be in danger of deportation, she was in shock. Still, others suggested that Obama could do more.
“Obama’s recent proposal, while it is a very powerful proposal and it’s very progressive, it doesn’t cover the extent that it should,” said Topiltzin Gomez ’18, who is undocumented but covered under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — a memorandum directing government officials to practice prosecutorial discretion towards immigrants who migrated to the U.S. as children — because he came to the U.S. when he was only five years old. “There’s still much work to be done, and we have to keep on fighting.”
Despite the order’s limitations, many immigrants interviewed still consider the order a major step forward.
“It makes me excited because I know my parents can have a better job than they have now, that they can give us more chances to go places and meet new things … and they can be there right next to us supporting us without being scared of ICE or anything like that,” said Michelle Cabrera, a middle school student at the Barnard Environmental Science Magnet School.
Alejandro Gonzalez, a Mexican immigrant who has lived in this country for over 14 years, said that even though the policy applies to him, he is saddened that not all 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S. will have the same opportunity as him.
In a press release sent after the speech, Gov. Dannel Malloy said that it is not too late for Congress to act before the steps Obama outlined take effect.
“There is no excuse for inaction,” he added.
“One of the preeminent benefits of this action will be to keep families together, ending the prospect of deporting parents of U.S. citizens, and enabling them to seek jobs, pay taxes and support their families,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73.
In 2010, the Pew Research Center estimated that undocumented immigrants make up 3.4 percent of Connecticut’s population.