The Fini family, from left, Cleilson, Italo, 15, Vivian, and Emmilyn, 9, are originally from Brazil, and may benefit from President Obama’s immigration measure. (T&G STAFF/STEVE LANAVA)
Saturday, November 22, 2014
Area immigrants react to Obama’s action
A ‘BITTERSWEET’ DECISION
By Paula Owen and Kim Ring TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF
Carlos Bergano of Worcester was at work but his wife tuned into President Barack Obama’s speech on immigration reform. “My wife told me it’s a good thing,” he said. (T&G STAFF/PAUL KAPTEYN)
WORCESTER — At 15, Worcester Technical High School sophomore Italo P. Fini knows a lot about immigration — more than many adults do — and he and his family paid close attention to what President Barack Obama had to say about it Thursday night.
Italo said the president’s speech changed his family’s life when he outlined his executive actions in a prime-time television address Thursday, that would affect an estimated 5 million immigrants in the U.S. illegally.
As a result of the executive order, immigrant parents of U.S. citizens, and of legal residents, who have been in the U.S. for five years or more will qualify under the program and will be eligible for protection from deportation, and eligible for work permits. Those who qualify must undergo criminal background checks, pay any back taxes they owe and pay a $400 fine every three years, according to Franklin I. Soults, spokesman for the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition.
Around 85 percent of immigrants who entered the U.S illegally have been here at least five years, Mr. Soults said, but the number of them who have children who are U.S. citizens may not be that large.
Mr. Soults and others said they do not feel the president’s actions were broad enough.
MIRA estimates that there are 11 million immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally.
“We’re very happy with the momentous step the president has taken, but it is concerning because there are certainly millions and millions who will not benefit at all and some have been here for decades and the majority of their lives,” he said.
Italo’s parents qualify. They came to the U.S. from Brazil when he was a baby out of fear, he said, after his father was robbed at gunpoint at work. A few years later, they got pregnant with his 10 year-old-sister.
“It is bittersweet,” said Italo, who’s a Student Immigrant Movement organizer. “People who can qualify are happy, but they are also sad for those who can’t. People who have been here for four-and-a-half years don’t qualify. Pregnant women don’t qualify. Having their baby now or tomorrow makes a huge difference.”
Italo said he does not like that the president said immigrants who qualify need to catch up on their taxes because it implies that they don’t pay them to begin with, but the Internal Revenue Service provides immigrants with a tax identification number.
His dad, a construction worker, and mom, who cleans houses part-time, have always paid taxes, he said.
“My parents are paying taxes,” he said. “Undocumented immigrants pay taxes so it is ridiculous to say they need to catch up on taxes they are paying anyway.”
He said the immigrant community is also waiting for more details on the program.
“I know people who have been living in this country 20 years who feel if they sign up, in 2016 if we elect a president who is against it, he or she will have a long list of people to deport,” he said. “There is a huge debate whether to sign up or not.”
Lourdes Larrama, 45, from Uruguay came to the U.S. nine years ago and lives in Leominster with her husband and daughters, 13 and 4.
Speaking through Nicolas Formaggia, an advocate at the Spanish American Center in Leominster interpreting for her, she said she has mixed emotions.
“I’ve only talked with my husband about this,” she said. “This affects many families, hardworking families who only want the best for their families.” Ms. Larrama runs a state-licensed daycare and pays her taxes each year. She and her husband are eligible for the program, she said.
“I am very emotional and I thank God for it,” she said, crying. “It is very important for my family. It is going to end the fear and the pain we suffer for such a long time. When we came to this country and fell in love with this country, we saw so many possibilities for us and our oldest daughter. We were happy of being in this country, but we were suffering because we were in the shadows. For us now to make it possible to know our daughters are going to get an education, it is very important to us. Not having that pressure and anguish, it’s a great relief. A heavy weight that comes off our backs.”
Though a step in the right direction, Mr. Formaggia said there are still many that are not going to be able to sleep at night or have peace of mind when going to work knowing they are going to make it back.
“I think he (the president) is constrained,” he said. “He should have done this many years ago, but I am not sure he can do much more right now.”
He said the immigrant community would like to see protections for every immigrant in the U.S. illegally who doesn’t have a criminal record and is trying to earn an honest living.
Jesus E. Enciso, SIM’s regional campaign coordinator for Central Massachusetts, was brought to the U.S. by his parents at the age of 6 from Mexico.
His parents qualify, the 21-year-old waiter from Marlboro said, because his older sister is a U.S. citizen, but he does not. He said he and other immigrants trapped in the system who are also part of the Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, Transgender, Queer community are disappointed they were not included in the president’s executive actions. The majority do not have children, he said, but would otherwise qualify. Those identifying as LBGTQ are mistreated in detention centers, he said, and are often persecuted in their native countries.
“I identify as queer,” he said. “So many of my friends who identify as LBGTQ never have had children or are able to. It limits us and how the community sees us. We need this protection.”
But, as much as the immigrant community was paying attention to what the president had to say, there was a lack of interest in the topic among some Worcesterites.
About a dozen people interviewed on Main Street Friday morning said they didn’t even try to watch the speech, they hadn’t read anything about it, didn’t know much about the executive orders the president detailed the night before and many said they don’t pay attention to politics at all.
Carlos Roman has been paying attention, though, and news that he might be able to help families stay together in the U.S. made him happy. The 23-year-old moved from Puerto Rico a decade ago and works as a case manager at Straight Ahead Ministries.
“About 30 percent of the cases I work for are families that are immigrants,” he said, adding that the executive orders will make it easier for him to help them.
The president has said he wants those who have children who are citizens to be less a focus for deportation while those who are criminals or who have recently arrived would be more heavily targeted.
Carlos Bergano came to Worcester from Brazil seven years ago. He was at work during the president’s address but said his wife tuned in.
“My wife told me it’s a good thing,” he said.
Many immigrants come to the United States to work, he explained. Taxes are taken out of their paychecks, but they don’t get to use some of the services those tax dollars fund.
As residents passed Santander Bank bundled against a chilly wind, some headed to Honey Dew Donuts for a hot coffee, few were concerned about the changes that would change life for those parents who are in the country illegally but whose children are citizens or legal permanent residents.
An attorney who is unhappy with the president said he’d prefer not to weigh in publicly because of his work.
Contact Paula J. Owen at email@example.com; Contact Kim Ring at firstname.lastname@example.org