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St. Louis Immigration Advocates Praise Obama's Actions But Wonder What's Next

A pro immigration rally in Kirkwood in 2013 asked that families not be divided.
Jo Mannies | St. Louis Beacon | file photo

As Rosa watched President Barack Obama spell out an executive order on immigration Thursday night, her feelings were mixed. Rosa, who is an undocumented immigrant in St. Louis, asked that we only use her first name.

She could qualify for temporary deportation relief under Obama’s executive action orders — she has a son who is a U.S. citizen. But even though she qualifies, she’s saddened that many fellow immigrants don’t.

Obama's executive order does not provide a pathway to citizenship; it does provide three years of deportation relief for around 5 million undocumented immigrants.

According to the Migration Policy Institute, Missouri is home to 27,000 undocumented immigrants eligible for deportation relief. The state, according to its figures, has more than 60,000 undocumented immigrants total.

To qualify for relief, a person must belong to one of two groups: undocumented individuals brought to the U.S. as children and parents of U.S. citizens or legal residents.

Part of the plan is an expansion of the Obama administration's 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. That policy, called DACA, protects young undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children. Obama’s expansion of the program would remove the age limit that previously prevented those over the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012, from applying.

People left out

Rosa qualifies for the program because her son is a U.S. citizen. She’s lived in St. Louis for more than 20 years. Rosa says she’s happy that she may qualify, but says there are so many people she knows in St. Louis whom the executive order will not help.

“A lot of people who live here for so many years, they are illegal like me,” she says. “They don't qualify for the opportunity the president is giving us. It’s very sad. It’s not fair.”

She says St. Louis is home, but she’s worried that even if she successfully applies for relief, she’ll still be forced to leave.

“I’m a little bit happy not completely because my question is what happens next?” Rosa says. “What happens when President Obama is finished his (term). What happens when the next president comes. He can wipe out everything. And all the people who qualify right now for this opportunity, we go back again, under the table. I call under the table because all the people, the illegal people like me, we live like under the table because we don't have driver’s license, we don't have opportunities.”

For now, some opportunities will open up for Rosa if she qualifies. She won’t face immediate deportation and she can now potentially obtain a driver's license and a working permit.

But many like Rosa feel the executive order is not enough.

Humane enforcement

Rebecca Feldmann chairs the Missouri Kansas Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. She says the order mainly makes the enforcement of the existing immigration laws more humane.

“It’s a first step to fixing a broken immigration system,” she said. “It’s not the solution; and the president is simply seeking humane ways to enforce the current laws because that’s really all he can do. It’s Congress' job to pass a bill. He cannot do that. He’s not providing any pathway to citizenship. It’s a Band-Aid. It’s a first step, but really it’s temporary stopgap measure.”

Even though it’s just a first step, Feldmann says local organizations are preparing.

“One of our big concerns is that people will be duped by scammers,” she said. “A lot of people make promises and seek to take advantage of other people based on this program.”

Feldmann says she encourages those thinking of applying to contact a qualified attorney and that there are no applications to fill out currently.

Community help

Vanessa Crawford Aragon, executive director of Missouri Immigrant and Refugee Advocates, says many different organizations have been working on how to assist those applying for relief.

“We will have community clinics to think through the documentation they will need to line up,” Aragon says. “They will need supporting documents to prove they were here for the last five years.”

Aragon says that it will likely take months before the application process even begins, but when it does it’s “going to be a life changing relief for the millions of families that qualify,” she said. “It really is a really big deal for those families being able to work and live and make plans without having to fear being separated from your family literally every day,” she said.

Aragon notes that while this process will allow some families to temporary move on, it’s only a temporary solution for some.

“The thing that cannot be left out is that the families not included in this order are no less deserving of our help, no less deserving to a solution to their plight as well,” she said.

For a more permanent solution, activist and immigrants will likely have to wait on action from Congress. How soon or what that action could look like is unknown. The legislature was divided over Obama’s executive order on immigrants, with Democrats by and large supporting the president and Republicans opposing.

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