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President Obama's executive order brings relief, joy to Detroit's immigrant communities

Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio

Many in Detroit's immigrant community are welcoming President Obama’s change of course on immigration.

The crowd at Detroit’s El Nacimiento restaurant listened quietly as the president outlined his executive order Thursday night, but broke into cheers and shouts of “bravo!” as he wrapped up.

The order makes a number of changes to immigration policy, affecting up to five million currently undocumented people.

Those changes include delaying the deportation of undocumented parents of children in the country legally, protecting any children brought to the country illegally before January 2010, and directing immigration enforcement officials to concentrate on deporting criminals and people deemed national security threats.

For people like Cindy Garcia, it means relief from a 10-year fight to prevent her undocumented husband from deportation. Since he was brought to the U.S. as a child and has children who are American citizens, he should be protected now.

“It’s overwhelming for a child to come home every day after school to a knock, and not know if it’s immigration, it’s the police,” said Garcia. “They shouldn’t live like that.”

Now, Garcia says they want to know more about specific criteria and how the program will work. “Because we always know that there’s fine print in everything,” she said.

As a so-called DREAMer – someone brought to the U.S. illegally as a child – Adonis Flores already had some legal protections. But he’s “overwhelmed with joy” to have additional safeguards that now extend to his parents as well.

“We know it’s temporary,” said Flores, an organizer with the immigrant activist group One Michigan. “But it definitely is giving all the immigrant community a boost to continue fighting for comprehensive immigration reform.”

Some hope that will eventually include millions of other undocumented people, and some who have already been deported – like Margaret Gonzalez’s husband.

Gonzalez said it appears that her husband – who had lived in the U.S. since age 11 and has a U.S.-born daughter – would have been protected by the new measures if he hadn’t been deported two years ago.

“It’s wonderful, I’m really happy for the people it does help,” Gonzalez said. “But I hope soon, someone will act and reverse [some deportations] … at least if they have a family here, especially kids who are citizens. This needs to happen.”

While the president’s move won widespread praise from many immigrants and immigration activists in Michigan, it unleashed a firestorm of criticism from state Republicans.

Macomb County Congresswoman Candice Miller said the action ignores constitutional limitations, and “shows complete disregard for the will of the American people.”

And Kalamazoo Congressman Fred Upton said the president’s “go-it-alone-approach” only creates further uncertainty about long-term immigration policies, and “drives a political wedge into ongoing reform efforts and recklessly disregards our nation’s lawmaking process.”

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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