Obama's deferred action immigration program working for some, not for others

Tani Rodriguez was brought to Houston as a child without documents
October 7, 2013 4:40:28 PM PDT
After last year's election, this was supposed to be the year for immigration reform. It hasn't happened. But just before the last election, President Barack Obama created a special program for children brought into our country illegally. It's been in place for a year, and we're taking a look at whether it's working.

This weekend across the country and at Houston City Hall, immigration advocates marched for more reform.

The program President Obama created last June -- Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA -- is a sort of immigration no man's land. If you get it, you can stay here for two years. But there's no promise it will last and no way to citizenship. For the hundreds of thousands who have it, it is a huge start.

The sun came up in the east on the day President Obama announced his deferred action, and it set in the west that night.

"They are Americans in their heart, in their minds, in every single way but one -- on paper," Obama said.

For hundreds of millions of Americans, including the vast majority of undocumented immigrants, it didn't change anything. But for Norma Torres, it was the day the world changed.

"I remember reading the news, and it popped up on my laptop, and I said, 'It can't be real,'" Torres said.

Torres came to the United States from Mexico as an eight-year-old, sealed under the mattress in the back of a tractor-trailer cab with her mother to cross the border -- undocumented.

Arriving in Houston, she lived on the River Oaks property her mother cleaned.

"My mother is my biggest hero," Torres said. "She sacrificed everything for me."

Torres graduated in the top 10 percent of her high school class and went on to graduate magna cum laude from Rice University, but unless President Obama had announced this program, she wouldn't be able to work here.

"Up until that, daily, every day, those kids lived in fear of detention, arrest and deportation," said Charles Foster, Torres' immigration attorney.

But not every young undocumented immigrant is in the same spot.

"My dad hired someone to bring us over," Tani Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez was brought here as a child without documents as well. He graduated eighth in his high school class, but he isn't lucky enough to qualify for the president's DACA program because he doesn't have a Mexican birth certificate. The Mexican government can't find one for him.

So years ago, he got a fake ID at a Houston flea market. He admits it was wrong but couldn't even get into an R-rated movie without one. That alone may be enough to get him deported back to Mexico.

"Mexico is not home," Rodriguez said. "I was raised here. The people I love are here, and the United States to me is home."

But he is not legally here, and so far, he can't get even the temporary relief the president offered.

This is not the solution young people like Rodriguez and Torres have worked so hard for.

"I want people to have jobs and more opportunities to move up," Torres said. "That's what the American dream is all about: having access to the opportunities."

According to the Brookings Institute, 537,000 young people have been accepted into the DACA program since last August. But, at the same time, criminal prosecutions for immigration violations have grown. The backlog to get those cases resolved has grown and so have deportations. The backlog in Houston, by the way, is worse than anywhere else in the nation. Immigrant rights activists say it is proof the president is securing the border and Congress should push for a comprehensive reform plan.

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