Leaders in Salt Lake City’s immigrant community urged cautious optimism in response to President Barack Obama’s announcement that he will try to reform immigration enforcement without Congress.
"Be patient," warned Tony Yapias, director of Proyecto Latino de Utah. "We don’t have any details yet."
Yapias and other immigrant advocates hosted a meeting Monday night in response to questions that were "blowing up" on social media after Obama’s remarks Monday. Obama, citing congressional standstill on immigration, said he has asked legal advisers to look at executive actions that may not require legislative approval after House Republicans gave no ground on immigration reform or funding requests to deal with waves of Central American children arriving, unaccompanied by adults, at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Obama has said he wants to move immigration officers from the country’s interior to the border to deal with the developing humanitarian crisis and shift enforcement away from longtime residents and toward newer arrivals and those who threaten national security or public safety.
"We thank the president for ... making a stand after all this time," said Brandy Farmer, president of the Centro Civico Mexicano, where the meeting was held. "It’s just taken too long. A lot of [the changes] may not be the way we thought it would happen."
With no known details or firm policy changes, Yapias warned Utah’s undocumented immigrants not to attempt any new action — and, in particular, to avoid predatory legal "services" that claim Obama’s announcement will immediately open new paths to legal residency.
"We don’t want people to get scammed," Yapias said. "Patience, please."
But for one attendant, patience likely will not resolve the deportation order she is facing. Andrea Sosa left Uruguay and entered the country on a visa waiver 11 years ago to pursue a career in nursing. Sosa, 40, said she worked as a certified nursing assistant in home care until a mentally ill client last year accused her of sexual abuse. Sosa was charged with three felonies and spent more than six months in jail until the charges were dismissed. Elated the ordeal was over, Sosa then learned that immigration officials still planned to deport her. She asked for a year to seek legal residency, pointing to her career, her two children — both A-students at Granger High School — and a nomination by her daughter’s teacher to name Sosa "mother of the year" for her hours of volunteer work. Agents gave her four months and plan to deport her in September.
"It was like ice water was splashed on me when they said no," Sosa said at the meeting, a monitor around her ankle. Her children are legal U.S. residents and would struggle in Uruguayan schools because they aren’t fluent in Spanish. If she returns to Uruguay, she’ll return alone. Her children will remain with their father.
Sosa noted that hers is the type of case being held up as the reason reforms are necessary: She is employed, with no criminal record and a family that would be split by her deportation. Whether Obama restructures enforcement before her September deadline is to be seen.
"I hope," Sosa said.
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