Montana immigrants cheer Obama’s executive orders

Montana Immigrant Justice Alliance board member Susie Rodriguez with her daughter and nieces at a May 2013 rally in support of immigration reform. Photo courtesy Pamela Chiang

According to one Montana immigrant justice group, President Barack Obama’s expansive executive orders on immigration could impact hundreds of undocumented immigrants living in Big Sky Country.

On Thursday, Obama announced sweeping immigration policies that could spare an estimated 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation.

Amy and Francisco Aguirre, pictured here with their five children at a 2013 rally in Bozeman in support of immigration reform, are board members of the Montana Immigrant Justice Alliance. Francisco Aguirre entered the United States without inspection but became a U.S. citizen a few months ago. Photo courtesy Patricia Decker
Amy and Francisco Aguirre, pictured here with their five children at a 2013 rally in Bozeman in support of immigration reform, are board members of the Montana Immigrant Justice Alliance. Francisco Aguirre entered the United States without inspection but became a U.S. citizen a few months ago. Photo courtesy Patricia Decker

The move infuriated Republicans, many of whom vowed to work to block implementation of the new policies that are set to go into effect in early 2015.

But in the meantime undocumented aliens such as Nora Garcia, of Bozeman, are elated at Obama’s action.

“I have dreamed of this for many, many years,” Garcia said after Obama’s speech to the nation Thursday.

Garcia is one of those likely to benefit from the changes in immigration enforcement policy.

Under Obama’s plan, law immigration officials would be compelled to focus their efforts on tracking down serious criminals and people who have recently crossed the border. The measures will primarily benefit younger immigrants and parents of U.S. citizens. The new policies will provide temporary protection and work cards to immigrants who have U.S. citizen children and have been here for five years or more.

“Due to our restrictive and counter-intuitive immigration laws, many parents of U.S.-citizen children have had no options to legalize their status,” said Garcia’s immigration attorney, Shahid Haque-Hausrath, of Helena. “To make matters worse, immigrants in Montana have often been subjected to racial profiling and other abuses, making it even more difficult to step out of the shadows. Now the hundreds of Montana parents I have met with over the last eight years will be able to breathe a sigh of relief.”

Amy and Francisco Aguirre, pictured here with their five children at a 2013 rally in Bozeman in support of immigration reform, are board members of the Montana Immigrant Justice Alliance. Francisco Aguirre entered the United States without inspection but became a U.S. citizen a few months ago. Photo courtesy Patricia Decker
Amy and Francisco Aguirre, pictured here with their five children at a 2013 rally in Bozeman in support of immigration reform, are board members of the Montana Immigrant Justice Alliance. Francisco Aguirre entered the United States without inspection but became a U.S. citizen a few months ago. Photo courtesy Patricia Decker

Garcia’s parents brought her to the United States from Mexico when she was 2. Her family entered the country on tourist visas and then remained in the country illegally after the visas expired.

In 1986, Republican President Ronald Reagan signed an amnesty bill passed by Congress that granted legal status to more than 3 million undocumented immigrants, including Garcia’s parents.

According to Haque-Hausrath, president of the immigrant rights group Montana Immigrant Justice Alliance, Garcia’s paperwork wasn’t properly completed when she was a child and she missed the opportunity to be granted legal status under the Reagan-era amnesty bill.

Garcia’s father eventually obtained a green card and in 1994 petitioned for Garcia to get her legal status. That petition was voided when Garcia got married because green-card holders can’t petition for a child who is married. Garcia’s father died in 2007, before he became a citizen. Only U.S. citizens can sponsor a petition for a green card on behalf of sons or daughters who are married or over 21.

Two of Garcia’s three children are U.S. citizens, but under current immigration laws they cannot petition for their mother to get a green card until they are 21. The oldest child who is a U.S. citizen is 16.

Garcia said until Obama’s announcement Thursday she lived in fear that her minor-age U.S. citizen children could come home one day to an empty house if she were arrested and deported.

“I have been waiting almost 22 years since my parents put in an application for my resident card,” Garcia said. “I can’t imagine how my life could be totally different now.”

Garcia’s mother, brother and two of her children are U.S. citizens.

“I’m the only one who isn’t a citizen,” Garcia said.

Haque-Hausrath said after Obama’s announcement he began the “monumental” task of reviewing thousands of clients’ case files to determine which ones might be impacted by the new policy.

“I’ve got a list of about 3,000 people now that I have to re-evaluate,” Haque-Hausrath said. “Immigration laws are complex and everybody’s facts and circumstances are different, but I know hundreds of people are going to be eligible under these new rules. The vast majority of my clients are parents of U.S. citizens.”

Haque-Hausrath said he welcomed Obama’s order, but he said Congress must pass comprehensive immigration reform that addresses the millions of undocumented immigrants who aren’t covered under Obama’s orders.

“There are hundreds more Montanans who came here as adults, are not parents of U.S. citizens, and don’t have any family who can petition for them to stay,” Haque-Hausrath said. “For them, these new policies will come as a disappointment, because they won’t find any benefit. These new policies are welcome changes, but only provide temporary relief — congressional action on immigration reform is still needed to make more lasting changes.”