Francisco Curiel, 22, is thrilled he and his sister can now enjoy some security, but Obama’s executive actions leave out their mother.
For Queens College student Francisco Curiel, 22, all those years of protesting and lobbying for immigration reform had come down to this historic yet bittersweet moment.
Curiel and other undocumented immigrants, joined by City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, gathered Thursday night at the Jackson Heights headquarters of Make the Road New York to hear President Obama’s big announcement granting temporary legal status to 5 million undocumented immigrants.
“At least now my little sister and I can enjoy some security,” Curiel said. “But I’m sad our mother, who sacrificed so much for us, has been left out.”
Curiel was just 15 when he crossed the Mexican border in 2007 with his 8-year-old sister.
That was one year after massive immigration rights protests rocked every major city in the U.S. Ever since those protests, millions of Latinos and immigrant rights organizations have been pressing our leaders to fix the country’s broken immigration system.
Curiel and his sister came here to reunite with their mother who had been working in a Long Island restaurant since 2002, all the while sending money home to support them.
When they arrived, the family moved to the city. Curiel started high school and worked construction jobs on weekends. Before long, he joined United We Dream, the organization of immigrant students that has done more to push Obama to this point than any group in the country.
“I’ve been to Washington more times than I can count to lobby and protest for the Dream Act,” said Curiel, who enrolled in Queens College this fall. “But when Obama announced his program to suspend deportations for the dreamers, it left me out.”
That order, issued in 2012, has so far allowed 800,000 young people who were brought here by their parents before the age of 16 to get temporary legal status. Curiel and his sister didn’t qualify because you had to be in the country before 2007.
The President’s new order moves the entry date to 2009 and increases the cutoff age for entry to 18. This will mean hundreds of thousands more young people will be able to qualify starting Jan. 1, including Curiel and his sister.
But the biggest relief will come for an estimated 4 million undocumented migrants who are parents of U.S. citizen children or legal permanent residents.
Those parents will be able to apply for three years of temporary legal status, though they will not be eligible for federal health insurance or other government benefits.
People like Guillermo Pintado, 58 — who came here from Ecuador in 1993 and fathered three U.S.-born children — would now be able to get legal status. “I always said we would come out of the shadows and into the light,” Pintado said.
A temporary one, Obama made clear. Only a new law in Congress can bring a permanent solution. Yet Republicans have blocked any bill that would allow a significant portion of the country’s 11.5 million undocumented to achieve legal status.
It will take six months, Chicago congressman Luis Gutierrez told me Thursday, before the federal government starts accepting applications from undocumented parents.
“That gives the new Republican majorities in the House and Senate 180 days to stop whining about the President’s order and pass something,” Gutierrez said.
Those who imagine this immigration issue will disappear don’t understand the years of pain and sacrifice Curiel, Pintado and millions of other immigrants have already endured.
At least the man in the White House showed them he does.
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