Maria Martinez clutched her 8-year-old son Rene’s hand and fingered her rosary beads, listening intently Thursday night as President Obama announced his plan to shield several million illegal immigrants from deportation.
All around her, people in the basement room at the CASA de Maryland headquarters in Hyattsville, Md., were clapping and cheering. But Martinez, 33, a housekeeper from El Salvador, was quietly absorbing the magnitude of what had just happened and how it would change her life.
“The fear is over,” Martinez said tearfully. “All I can think about is what I’m going to tell the kids.”
For nine years, Martinez has not seen her two older children, whom she left behind in El Salvador to join her husband in the United States.
Now, the president had just announced that parents of children like Rene, who was born in this country, could apply for a reprieve from deportation. Martinez might finally be able to travel home and return legally to the United States.
Across the Washington region and the nation, illegal immigrants celebrated as the president announced that 3.7 million parents of U.S.-born and resident children as well as 1 million or more undocumented immigrants who arrived as children would have a path to receive work permits, drive and conduct legal transactions.
There were also scenes of deep disappointment, especially among groups of Latina women known as “dreamer moms,” whose children were among about 600,000 legalized by Obama in a 2012 program but were not included in his new action as grounds for legalizing parents.
“It’s a small bandage for a large wound,” said Maria Reyes, 68, an illegal immigrant from Mexico who lives near Oakland, Calif. She was waiting outside the White House on Thursday evening after fasting there for several days. Although her two children were granted deportation relief through the 2012 “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” program, they will not be able to confer legal status on her.
There were also several million illegal immigrants who never stood a chance of reprieve under Obama’s plan, especially adult men who left their families behind and came to work in the United States illegally. Some Central Americans obtained temporary protection as war refugees, but many could not convert that to permanent legal status, while Mexicans — the great majority of undocumented immigrants — had no such benefit.
Mario Juarez, 40, a painter from Honduras, spent Thursday in a parking lot in Arlington, Va., hoping a contractor would come along in a van to offer him a day’s wages. Around him were a dozen other men in thick jackets and scuffed workboots, many of whom had been working in the United States for years and yet knew they had no hope of deportation relief.
“I’m happy for all those families who will be able to stay together now, but there are a lot of guys like me who came with the same dream. Now we’re being left out,” said Juarez, who has spent the past 12 years working odd construction jobs and sending money back home to his wife and three children.
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