Immigration Policy Change Eases Some Fears Locally
Smith, Jamon, The Tuscaloosa News
TUSCALOOSA | President Barack Obama's policy that would prevent young illegal immigrants who meet certain qualifications from being deported has caused a stir in Tuscaloosa's Hispanic community.
Supporters of the policy change say it eases fears of deportation for some illegal immigrants, although they say it does nothing to protect older illegal immigrants or younger immigrants who don't meet the policy's qualifications.
The new policy also comes into conflict with Alabama's immigration law, considered the most restrictive in the country.
One illegal immigrant, 20-year-old Lourbes, who moved to Tuscaloosa from Queretaro, Mexico, when she was 10, qualifies under the new policy. She said she plans to apply for a work permit as soon as that process is open.
Lourbes graduated from high school in Tuscaloosa and does factory work in Tuscaloosa.
She said she's happy about the policy change.
"I think it's awesome news because students and us as young people didn't know we were violating the law crossing into another country when we came here," Lourbes said. "We just wanted to meet our parents and have a better life."
Lourbes said her parents came to the U.S. when she was 3, leaving her and her brother in Mexico with their grandparents.
When she was 10 and her brother was 9, they joined their parents in the U.S.
"My parents wanted to wait to bring us over because they were trying to raise money," she said.
"They were gone the whole time and I was so glad to see them. My brother and I never had in our minds that this is wrong according to the law. We just wanted to be with our parents."
Shay Farley, legal director for the Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice in Montgomery, said the new federal policy means children who cross into the U.S. will not be deported because they didn't choose to enter the country by themselves.
"The child didn't crawl across the border," Farley said. "They didn't get in a truck and drive here. They didn't make a decision to come. They didn't think about committing a violation or a crime. That's all this decision does is protect them. It doesn't grant anyone who's a criminal anything."
Lourbes said the new policy will open doors for young illegal immigrants who grew up in the U.S. Her immigration status has kept her from going to college, she said.
"It's hard growing up here and learning that you can't do what your other friends are doing or going to do," she said.
"All of my friends would say during my senior year, 'I'm going to Samford, UA or another college,' and they'd ask me what college am I going to. I'd say no college because I'm tied up. I had no idea that my status would prevent me from doing the things I thought I could do. I applied for Shelton (State Community College) and they asked for proof of residence. I couldn't provide it."
She said despite her good grades, she could not find a college to attend.
"I got offered full scholarships to colleges, but when my teacher who was trying to help me would tell colleges that I was illegal, those scholarships would disappear before my very eyes," she said.
Under the new federal guidelines for the Department of Homeland Security, illegal immigrants will not be deported if they were brought to the United States before they turned 16 and are younger than 30.
They also must have been in the country for at least five consecutive years, have no criminal history, and have either graduated from a U.S. high school, earned a GED or served in the U.S. military.
Illegal immigrants who qualify can also apply for two-year work permits that can be renewed.
"The policy opens some doors for people," said Dorothy McDade, coordinator of Hispanic ministries at Holy Spirit Catholic Church. "Any little crack where someone can get in the door is better than nothing.
"It gives a little bit of reprieve for the young people, but not to the parents who have been living here and raising those kids. …