Immigrants in Limbo Over Obama Immigrant Rules

When President Barack Obama outlined why he was letting as many as 4 million immigrants stay and work legally in this country last month, it sounded like he was talking about Arturo Hernandez.

Hernandez, 42, meets the criteria for Obama’s deportation relief. He has a daughter who was born here and is a U.S. citizen, a steady job and he has lived here without being convicted of crime since 1999. But the president’s administration is trying to deport Hernandez anyway.

The deportation case stems from an arrest and charges in 2010, of which he was later acquitted. Hernandez fought it for four years, hoping Obama would live up to his pledges to fix the country’s immigration system. When the president gave his White House address outlining the program, Hernandez and his family watched from the basement room of a church where he has been living for the past month to prevent immigration authorities from sending him back to Mexico.

He felt a flicker of hope, but one that was quickly dashed. His wife and non-citizen daughter qualify for deportation relief, but not him.

“It’s difficult, frustrating. I thought ‘the program is here, I’ve qualified,’” Hernandez said. His wife and daughters flew to Washington on Tuesday to plead for mercy.

The president’s order is the most sweeping in decades, allowing immigrants in the country at least five years with U.S. citizen children to stay. But a still unknown number of immigrants are going to fall through the cracks, immigration attorneys say, because they can’t prove they’ve been here long enough, their children only grew up here but were not born in the United States, or they, like Hernandez, are already in the deportation queue.

“Lines have to be drawn somewhere. There are always going to be people on the wrong side of the line,” Denver immigration attorney Mark Barr said.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement said it will consider on a case-by-case basis people who, like Hernandez, would qualify for deportation relief under Obama’s program but are already in the process of being deported. They would not comment on Hernandez’s case, although officials have suggested that otherwise law-abiding people like him would be low priorities for deportation. That’s not enough to ease Hernandez’s worries.

Hernandez and his wife came to the United States on a legal visa with their 3-month-old daughter in 1999. They built a life in the suburbs around Denver, having a second girl who is a U.S. citizen. Hernandez worked at a construction firm, but in 2010, a co-worker complained that Hernandez assaulted him. Hernandez was arrested and found innocent after a trial, but not before immigration authorities were notified he was in the country illegally.

Hernandez said he hoped he could hang on until Obama carried out his longstanding promise to fix the immigration system and let people like him stay.

“They promised us for five or six years immigration reform and he is doing nothing,” Hernandez said. “Thousands of people are deported every year.”

In October, as Hernandez’s final deadline approached, he fled to the safety of a church, First Unitarian Society of Denver. Immigration policies don’t let agents enter a house of worship to deport someone unless they have committed a serious crime.

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Immigrants in Limbo Over Obama Immigrant Rules
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