SAN JOSE, Calif.—The crowd at East San Jose’s iconic Our Lady of Guadalupe church erupted in wild applause after President Barack Obama finished announcing the details of his plan to give temporary legal status to millions of illegal immigrants.
“Thank God they will stop the deportations,” said Josefina Ceja, who was sitting in the pews with her husband and their 6-year-old granddaughter. “That will stop thousands of families from being separated.”
But other immigrants gathered in churches, restaurants and living rooms across Northern California said Obama didn’t go far enough with his plan to temporarily shield up to 5 million illegal immigrants from deportation while strengthening up border security and making it easier for some tech workers and students to stay here. And others residents chastised him for abusing his presidential authority.
In the heavily Latino city of Salinas, Bill Carrothers called the news “a scourge from hell for American workers who are blue-collar.”
“Chinese jobs are for Chinese citizens, and Indian jobs are for citizens of India. Mexican jobs are for citizens from Mexico. American jobs are for American citizens,” said Carrothers, 72, a retired Occupational Safety and Health Administration worker. “We need competition from millions more illegal immigrants like we need a serious case of cancer.”
One thing is clear: The impact on California will be huge.
An estimated 2.6 million of the nation’s 11 million to 12 million illegal immigrants live in the state, and almost half of them have been in the country for more than 10 years, according to a 2013 University of Southern California study.
At Our Lady of Guadalupe, Ernesto Perez, a San Jose janitor, wore a white T-shirt emblazoned with Obama’s face. Two of his four children who are undocumented will be protected under the president’s plan to extend protection from deportation to more immigrants who were brought here illegally as children. “Now we have a lot of hope,” Perez said.
But Sandra Mendoza felt “a little deceived — I was hoping for more.”
“After 18 years here, and working so hard to offer our children all the opportunities available in this country, I was hoping that we could become legal residents” permanently, said the East San Jose mother of three.
Originally from Mexico, Mendoza said she was expecting some sort of promise that would allow her to build up retirement through Social Security and have access to Medicare.
Immigrant families who gathered with advocates at Catholic Charities of the East Bay in Oakland also had mixed emotions.
Catholic Charities officials say nearly 500,000 undocumented immigrants in the Bay Area alone could qualify under the new plan.
“I’ve never had anything this big happen in my 13-year career (in immigration),” said program manager Maciel Jacques. “But we still have a long way to go.”
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Many immigrants’ faces fell when they began to consider which friends and family members won’t fit into Obama plan because only longtime residents with children who are citizens or legal permanent residents will be eligible.
“I just wish everyone who’s come here to work could be included,” said Oakland resident Carlos Orozco, 34, who has been in the U.S. for half his life and is excited to seek a work permit and apply to schools in search of “a better job and a better life.”
But many of his childless friends who have lived in the Bay Area for years won’t be so lucky. “I wish it included everyone who has come to help their families be successful,” he said.
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At the Guadalajara Restaurant in Oakland’s Fruitvale district, Veronica Viscarra—a 35-year-old waitress who immigrated illegally 10 years ago with the eldest of her four children—proclaimed the plan to be “what we’ve always wanted.”
But restaurant manager Everado Pelayo-Guzman, 32, feared that he might not qualify for protection because of a pending domestic-violence complaint from his ex-wife. Now facing a deportation hearing, he said he’ll have to ask his attorney what his options are.
“It’s scary for me,” said the Oakland resident, who immigrated illegally with his parents at age 10. “I don’t want to leave my kids. I’ve been here my practically my whole life.”
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While California’s congressional Democrats gushed support, its House Republicans took to the battlements. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said the president’s action is unconstitutional and does “nothing to solve the underlying problems of our open border and broken immigration system. In fact, it may exacerbate the problem.”
“It is our obligation and responsibility to fight this brazen power grab that doesn’t solve the real problems,” McCarthy said.
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Silicon Valley leaders were underwhelmed.
Gary Shapiro, the Consumer Electronics Association’s president and chief executive, deemed Obama’s expansion of visas for foreign students and entrepreneurs to be “minor incremental improvements.”
Carl Guardino, president and chief executive of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, said, “I’m not sure how this benefits our region or the nation’s innovation economy.”
And TechNet President and chief executive Linda Moore said while her group is “encouraged” by the plan to make work authorizations portable and make it easier for graduates of U.S. universities to stay and work here, “sustainable reform requires congressional action.”
Staff writers Joe Rodriguez, Matt Artz, Tracy Seipel, Katie Nelson and Michelle Quinn contributed to this report.
©2014 San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)
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