Young Immigrants See Hope In Obama Policy
By GARY STERN
THE JOURNAL NEWS
(Original Publication: July 30, 2012)
WHITE PLAINS- Jasmin Aguil of White Plains laughs when friends and others suggest that she move back to Mexico if she can’t find a way to stay in the United States legally.
Her parents brought her here when she was 8. Now’s she’s 29.
“I don’t identify myself as a Mexican,” she said. “I speak better French than Spanish because I took French in school. What would I do in Mexico? My country is here.”
Aguil’s greatest hope for something like a normal life is the Obama administration’s plan to offer a two-year work permit – and temporary legal residence – to undocumented immigrants 30 or younger who can prove they came to the U.S. before they were 16.
The controversial program, which Obama announced as an executive order on June 15, has created tremendous expectations and much anxiety for illegal immigrants who want to know if they will qualify. On Sunday, more than 300 people packed the El Centro Hispano community center in White Plains to learn about the program and consult with immigration lawyers.
After conferring with Larry Delgado, a former White Plains City Council member, Aguil said she didn’t know how she could prove that she’s been in the U.S. for two decades – not when undocumented immigrants try to live off the grid.
“As an immigrant, you’re trying to hide,” she said. “Now they’re saying ‘Show us your records.’ I don’t have records. But I’m still hopeful. I have to be hopeful.”
The application process is supposed to be announced by mid-August. White Plains immigration lawyer Robin Bikkal told the crowd that those who are lucky enough to get the work permit will have to avoid all legal troubles or they could lose it.
“This is the miracle parents have been waiting for,” she said in Spanish. “Children will have the opportunity to work. But it is a privilege, not a law.”
Several young adults interviewed Sunday described similar circumstances: growing up in Westchester and graduating from local high schools, but being unable to afford college because they are ineligible for financial aid and being unable to work because they don’t have papers.
Juan Diaz, 19, came to White Plains from Guatemala with his family at 5. He graduated high school and paid by himself for a semester at Herkimer Community College, where he played on a championship soccer team. But he can’t afford to go back to college, can’t get a job and can’t accept several invitations to play club soccer in Europe – because he wouldn’t be able to get back into the U.S.
“This could be life-changing,” he said of the work permit. “I’m an American at heart and in mind. But I’m not an American on paper. I’m confident and want to pursue success, but I can’t. I’m living in the shadows but want to move on with my life.”
It’s unclear what the long-term picture might be for those who earn the work permit.
Mitt Romney, the likely Republican presidential candidate, has said that he would repeal Obama’s order while proposing a new immigration reform plan.
Obama issued his executive order as an alternative to the Dream Act, a mostly Democratic plan that would create a six-year path to U.S. citizenship for illegal immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as minors, graduate from U.S. high schools, and finish college or two years in the U.S. military. The bill has languished in Congress since 2001.
Brenda Lopez, 18, who came to the U.S. illegally from Mexico when she was 9, plans to study at Westchester Community College this fall and would like to become a teacher. She sees the new program as the answer she’s been waiting for.
“When you have so many barriers, it brings you down,” she said. “It’s really depressing. When you see an option like this, you see a light. It’s a big thing for me. It’s a light.”
Bikkal & Associates Attorneys Informs Community About New Immigration Policy
On Sunday, July 29, 2012, Robin Bikkal and Cecilia Bikkal spoke to a large crowd at El Centro Hispano community center in White Plains about the Obama administration’s new “Deferred Action” policy. Afterward, Robin and Cecilia sat and spoke individually with many of the attendants about how this new policy can affect them and their family members.
Cecilia Bikkal speaks with community member about new immigration policy
Robin Bikkal talks with parents whose child may be eligible for immigration relief
A parent speaks with Robin Bikkal about whether his family can take advantage of the new program
Robin Bikkal and Cecilia Bikkal with the directors of El Centro Hispano community center of White Plains