The new year could be a life-changing one for some Angelenos eligible to apply for relief under President Obama's initiative exempting some immigrants from deportation.
Announced last November, the executive action offers legal status to certain undocumented children and parents. Republican opponents vow to challenge the plan, but the White House said eligible immigrants can begin applying for the program as early as February or May.
The plan will bring relief from deportation and grant work permits to children brought to the U.S. without visas as well as some parents of U.S. citizens and children with permanent resident status.
It’s a change that will allow many families to finally live without fear, said Zerihoun Yilma, associate director of the Coalition of Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles. At the organization’s year-end party, Yilma said coalition members have been fighting for immigration reform for years. In 2014, they organized multiple trips to Washington, D.C., to push for changes to U.S. immigration policy.
Isobel Sandoval of Canoga Park was among those who traveled to D.C. in November with the group. Seventeen years ago, she had arrived in Los Angeles from Mexico without a visa. Her two children were born in California. When her youngest was a newborn, she received a call from her husband who said immigration officials had picked him up in a workplace raid. Sandoval was devastated.
It took six years of fighting to keep her husband in the country. Sandoval says it took an immense toll on the family.
“It affected us a lot, especially my eldest,” Sandoval said. “My daughter had to go to court and testify before a judge and plead with him not to deport her father.”
Her daughter, Guadelupe Sandoval-Rojas, was seven when her father was arrested. Now 14 years old, Guadelupe remembers the trip to the court. She was a very good student, she said, but her grades immediately dropped.
“I thought it was my fault because, like sometimes, I didn’t do some stuff that my parents told me to do,” she said. She didn’t tell her closest friends that her father faced deportation. “I couldn’t express my feelings to my friends until the day came that my dad was able to stay,” she said.
Rojas is now an honors student, but she said she fears the government will take her mother, too. And so, as a tween, she became involved with the CHIRLA coalition as did her mother. Her dream for next year has already come true, she said.
“It was that Barack Obama was to pass, at least to give something to the immigrants [so] they could stay and not separate the families anymore,” she said.
Sandoval plans to immediately apply for immigration relief when she can. She knows she still will not be able to travel home and visit her family in Mexico which she has not seen in almost two decades. But she is relieved that she will no longer live with the fear of being separated from her daughters, both U.S. citizens.
“This change is huge,” she said. “It means I can move about freely.”
The youngest member of the Sandoval-Rojas family, 6-year-old Marisol, has one dream for next year: “To have fun with my family,” she said. She plans to be more helpful at home, “by helping clean up the table.”
Sandoval feels it’s going to be a very different year for the family without deportation hanging over their heads. “I already feel more relaxed just knowing I can apply,” she said.
Sandoval hopes Congress passes more comprehensive immigration reform that would cover others in her community who may be ineligible for the deportation relief program. “There are so many people who won’t qualify, and I would like to see everyone qualify.”
As soon as she gets her papers, she plans to take her family to San Diego so they can finally see the aquarium.