When President Barack Obama announced his executive actions on immigration on Nov. 20, Juan Carlos Cerda ’15 received a call from his father, who asked him what the changes would mean for their family. Cerda, an undocumented immigrant, responded that his father, who is also undocumented, would be able to renew his expired driver’s license, and thus could keep his job.
Under Obama’s action, any undocumented immigrant who has been in the United States for over five years and was either under the age of 16 at the time of entry or has a child who is a citizen or legal resident can apply for a work permit and three years’ protection from deportation. Eligible immigrants must also pay taxes and pass a background check. While this so-called “deferred action” program will provide temporary relief to families of Yalies like Cerda, students interviewed said the president’s policies should only be viewed as the first step towards further immigration reform.
“It is understandable because there is only so much that an executive order can do,” Cerda said. “My parents are so grateful. I’m so grateful. But, it’s not a permanent solution.”
Obama’s executive actions now qualify between 4 and 5 million undocumented immigrants for protection. Cerda’s family is eligible because, though the rest of them are undocumented, his youngest brother was born in the United States.
The family of Topiltzin Gomez ’18 is not so lucky. Gomez is protected under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — a policy implemented in 2012 that protects undocumented immigrants who arrived while under age 16 and before 2007. But because he was not born here, his parents do not qualify for protection. As a result, they still must be very careful to follow the law, avoiding things as trivial as a traffic ticket, he said. The consequences of such infractions can include deportation.
Gomez added that though over 4 million immigrants could be covered by the executive action, 6 million are still left unprotected.
“Immigration isn’t a numbers game,” Gomez said. “Even though you have around 40 percent of the undocumented population being covered by this, there is still 60 percent who are still feeling the same effects: wage theft, being separated from family, no sense of certainty. They’re still very much living in the shadows.”
He added that not everybody eligible will actually receive protection. For example, the application will require a yet-undetermined fee that some families might not be able to afford.
Evelyn Nuñez ’15 said the action seeks to keep families together but excludes many families who should be protected. Nuñez, who was born in the United States and whose parents were granted amnesty in the 1980s, said she has friends who just missed eligibility.
“There are a lot of families in the boat of, ‘Our children have been here since a very young age, America is the only country they know,’ but they don’t necessarily qualify under Obama’s action,” she said. “They aren’t the families Obama is trying to reach out to, although their story is very similar.”
Gomez added that immigrants’ registration for deportation protection exposes their undocumented status. In this way, they make themselves vulnerable to immigrant officials should the executive action later be revoked, Gomez said.
Despite this concern, Cerda said that his family will apply because the benefits outweigh the risks. Gomez said his parents would also have applied if they were eligible.
Overall, the action is a huge victory for the immigrant community, said Nick Torres, director of advocacy for Junta for Progressive Action, a Latino advocacy group in New Haven. He added, however, that it is only a temporary fix, and activists should continue pushing for a broader, more permanent solution.
Still, Gomez acknowledged the difficulties in creating more inclusive immigration policy.
“I know [America] can’t accept everybody,” he said. “It just does not make logical sense to do that, it doesn’t make legal sense, it doesn’t make political sense. Yet it makes human sense.”