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Immigrants Feel Stuck After Judge Blocks Obama Orders

19 Feb

Brenda Armendariz, her husband and their two Mexico-born children were hoping to resolve their constant fears of being deported after President Barack Obama issued his latest executive orders on immigration.

But now that a federal judge in Texas has blocked Obama’s efforts to protect four million more immigrants, her family is disillusioned and her children feel stuck as the president’s offer of temporary legal status moves frustratingly beyond their reach.

About a third of the immigrants now living in the United States illegally would be eligible for temporary protection if Obama’s latest orders are upheld in court, either because they were brought to the U.S. as children or because their own children have legal status in the country.

But the advances and retreats on reform have been so frequent over the years that many thousands of immigrants who are already eligible for protection have given up for now — they aren’t applying for the work permits and Social Security numbers they are entitled to under Obama’s first executive order in 2012.

There are a litany of reasons why, including general distrust of the government, fear they’ll be deported, and the nearly $500 in fees it costs to apply. But the constant uncertainty created by Washington’s political divide also keeps them away.

About 150 people have reached out to Arizona immigration attorney Lance Wells this week, reacting with bafflement, fear and dismay to the latest reversal, he said. His message: “Be patient guys. We kind of knew this would be coming.”

But their patience is wearing thin.

Armendariz and her husband came to Tucson a decade ago with a son and daughter, meaning to stay just long enough to earn some cash and head home to the Mexican state of Sonora. Instead, they overstayed their visas and settled down. Those children are now 21 and 13, joined by two American citizen siblings: a 3-year-old boy and a one-month-old girl.

Like so many other immigrants, this family has “mixed status,” and the mother, father and two oldest children didn’t qualify for protection under Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA program, nearly three years ago.

With the goal of keeping such families together, Obama’s executive orders announced in November would have applied to the older siblings starting on Wednesday, and the parents starting in May.

U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen of Texas temporarily blocked both expansions after Obama’s opponents sued, calling it an overreach of presidential power. The Obama administration plans to appeal, but 21-year-old Itzayana Aguirre Armendariz is already giving up.

“I don’t know if it’s just anger or disillusionment,” Armendariz said. “I tell her to not close herself off; that Obama already signed (the executive actions) and that now it’s just about waiting and fighting.”

Aguirre Armendariz had to drop out of community college her freshman year because her family couldn’t afford the out-of-state tuition that immigrants lacking legal status must pay in Arizona. She was studying engineering and wants to go back to school, but is stuck helping her mom make and sell tortillas and bread.

With the latest injunction causing more delays, she announced to the family that she wants to move back to Mexico. Her father overruled that, but they know they can’t keep their daughter’s future on hold forever.

Armendariz’s 13-year-old boy is still in public school and had his hopes set on Disneyland, but those too were dashed; driving far from home remains too risky and expensive, she said.

Roman Beltran, of Phoenix, also didn’t qualify for DACA’s first round, but would be eligible under the expansion. He was brought to the U.S. from Mexico at 5. “I was really upset and frustrated because this is not the first time that I get my hopes up with immigration,” he said.

Beltran had been on a separate path to legal permanent residency through his wife until they got divorced. Now 36, he feels taken advantage of by the political battles, and says he simply wants to work and contribute.

“I just want a job, is what it boils down to. To be able to get a job legally, pay my taxes,” Beltran said.

The Obama administration had estimated that 890,000 immigrants could be eligible for the deportation protections, according to internal Homeland Security budget documents from 2012. Others put the number at up to 1.7 million.

But as of last June, only 675,000 people were approved, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Luis Martinez, a 31-year-old factory welder in Southern California, is still hoping to qualify as the father of three American citizen boys. He’s got many reservations about outing himself, but doesn’t see much of a choice.

“I think this is temporary,” Martinez said. “I think later on, this will be resolved.”