Merced Organizing Project: Locals weigh in on Obama’s new immigration action

A blur of mixed feelings.

That’s how Merced County immigration advocates and members of mixed status families would best describe their reaction to President Barack Obama’s executive order that promises to shield more than 4 million unauthorized immigrants from deportation.

For Adriana Meza, 23, Obama’s announcement on Thursday night lifted a big weight off her shoulders. The Merced resident and liberal studies student at California State University, Fresno, was granted protection through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program two years ago, and now thanks to her U.S.-born 12-year-old sister, her parents will qualify to be protected from deportation and apply for a work permit.

But although her parents, who left Mexico more than 20 years ago, will be beneficiaries, knowing that another 7 million are still left in the shadows left Meza with a feeling of dissatisfaction.

“We want an immigration reform for all 11 million (undocumented immigrants),” she said. “I know families who did not qualify, and it’s sad because some have been here just as long. I am thankful that my mom and dad don’t have to live in fear anymore, but what about the rest?”

Under Obama’s new plan, the undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents who can prove they have lived in the country for at least five years can apply for relief from deportations. Protection will last for a period of three years. Those who qualify can start applying this spring, although an exact date has not been announced.

Merced resident Adriana Flores, 42, is one of the 7 million who will not qualify for deportation relief. Despite having lived in the United States for more than 22 years, she does not have U.S.-born children. Her only son is also a Deferred Action grantee.

“It’s frustrating and disappointing,” Flores said in Spanish. “It feels like we live in a golden cage – everything is at hand’s reach but we’re not completely free. My husband and I have been on our best behavior since we’ve arrived to this country, but that doesn’t seem to matter,” she added. “Doors keep closing on us.”

Despite the broken spirit, Flores, who has been an active community leader for immigration rights with the Merced Organizing Project, said she and her fellow community organizers will continue to put pressure on Congress for passage of comprehensive immigration reform.

Crissy Gallardo, an organizer with the Merced Organizing Project, said people should understand that Obama’s immigration plan does not amount to an amnesty and in no way does it pave the way for citizenship.

“We applaud the president for taking a step in the right direction, but we still have more battles to fight,” Gallardo said. “We’ve seen politics placed before human lives. But this isn’t about political power; for us it’s about our families.”

Obama’s plan, however, did not sit well with everyone. Merced County Sheriff-elect Vern Warnke said he did not agree with the president’s decision.

“It was against the Constitution, and it was a slap in the face to citizens and to those who have entered this country legally,” he said.

Warnke, who has worked in law enforcement for about 35 years, said Merced County has not seen a lot of problems with the undocumented population. However, he is concerned about how the new order will affect the authority of local law enforcement.

“(Obama) is not going to allow us to arrest a lot of these folks based on the fact that they’re here illegally – that to me is completely wrong. Obama will never have to deal with these policies on a personal level; I will,” he added.

While the fallout from the changes planned by Obama is being debated, Merced Organizing Project officials warned people to be on the lookout for scammers. Gallardo said with Obama’s announcement, there will be people making false promises in exchange for money.

Gallardo and organizers expect to put on informational forums on the new immigration rules in the coming months. Although exact dates and locations have not been determined, anyone with questions can call the Merced Organizing Project at (209) 201-0807.