SANTA ANA (CBSLA.com/AP) — Immigrants in the country illegally already are flooding attorneys’ offices with calls to see if they can qualify under President Barack Obama’s yet-to-be-announced plan to shield as many as 5 million immigrants from deportation.
Obama said in a video posted online Wednesday that he’ll reveal the long-awaited order at 5 p.m. Thursday: “So what I’m going to be laying out is the things that I can do with my lawful authority as president to make the system work better.”
A large crowd is expected to watch the President’s address in Downtown L.A. as it’s screened from a projector in front of the Metropolitan Detention.
Undocumented immigrant Pedro Garay told CBS2/KCAL9’s Peter Daut he and his family have spent the last 20 years in constant fear of deportation. He is anxiously awaiting Obama’s announcement: “We’ve just waiting for this decision for a long time.”
Obama is expected to sidestep Congress and take executive action to protect many of the estimated 11 million people in the country illegally from deportation. This comes after Congress failed to pass an immigration overhaul. Republicans are vehemently opposed to the president’s likely actions, with some conservative members threatening to pursue a government shutdown if he follows through on his promises to act on immigration before the end of the year.
Critics worry about the plan’s impact.
“It rewards people who have violated our laws and encourages more people to come to The United States illegally,” said Ira Mehlman, of the Federation for Immigration Reform.
While Obama has yet to reveal the details of his administrative order, immigrant advocates are gearing up to help millions determine if they are eligible to apply and steer them clear of fraudulent consultants and so-called notarios, who have been known to take immigrants’ money and promise to deliver even when they don’t qualify for benefits.
Immigrant advocacy groups in Southern California are planning workshops to inform community members about the order, including a 12,000-person forum at the L.A. Convention Center in mid-December, said Jorge-Mario Cabrera, a spokesman for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles.
Alex Galvez, an immigration lawyer in Los Angeles, said he’s going to need to add phone lines to keep up with the demand. Immigration lawyer Annaluisa Padilla, who’s based in Orange County, said she’s getting twice as many calls as usual since buzz intensified over the plan, which would also grant the immigrants work permits.
“It’s like the golden ticket,” she said. “Everybody who is calling my office is asking how can I get a work permit under Obama’s program? I am like, there is no Obama program yet.”
The New Mexico Immigrant Law Center is planning a to start a text messaging system targeting immigrants across the state, especially those in rural areas where legal services might not be easily accessible. Immigrant advocates in Florida are planning the same, and will also start a hotline in English and Spanish to keep community members informed.
In New York, immigration lawyers and nonprofits are preparing to hold clinics to help screen immigrants for the program.
Mayra Gallegos, a 33-year-old mother of two and trained nurse, is pinning her hopes on Obama’s plan. She came from Mexico a decade ago to join her husband, who has since gotten a green card. Her younger son was born here, and is an American. But she and her elder son have not been able to get their papers.
“What Obama is going to do, if he does it, would really help me and my son,” said Gallegos, who hopes to find a job as a nurse should she receive a work permit. “We’re always watching to see if there’s any news.”
But some advocates warned immigrants not to get their hopes up yet — especially with lawmakers threatening to thwart Obama’s plan.
“What I am telling my families to do is be prepared for war. We’re going to see a legislative arm do whatever they can to stop the president,” said Jessica Dominguez, an immigration attorney in Southern California. “I am not going to let my community be saddened again by words. We need action.”
Garay hopes he and the millions of other undocumented immigrants in the U.S. will be able to finally step out of the shadows: “We are part of this country.”
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