- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 20, 2014

President Obama’s executive amnesty would shield up to 5 million illegal immigrants from deportation and grant most of them work permits — but immigrant-rights activists had hoped for much more, saying he left a number of hard-working illegal immigrants still in danger of being separated from their families.

Some activists labeled it a “down payment” on what they expect to eventually be many more illegal immigrants they want to see granted legal status.

Advocates plan to attend Mr. Obama’s Las Vegas speech Friday, where he is expected to lay out more details of who made the cut and who didn’t, in what the activists called a “sweet-bitter moment.”

“While we are overjoyed for the families that this announcement will support and offer them some relief, our hearts also lay heavy with the many people we love in our community who may not qualify,” said Erika Almiron, executive director of Juntos. “When we declare ‘Not One More Deportation,’ we mean just that.”

Activists had stepped up pressure on Mr. Obama over the last year, including staging sit-ins and vigils outside the White House and on the National Mall near the Capitol, demanding he halt deportations for almost all of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants now in the U.S.

Most of them cheered the moves the president did make Thursday: Granting special temporary amnesty from deportation to illegal immigrant parents of U.S. citizen children, and expanding a previous amnesty for so-called Dreamers, or young illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. by their families.

“Because of President Obama’s leadership, millions of children will no longer have to live in fear of the government coming during the night to take their parents away,” said Bruce Lesley, president of First Focus.

But some groups said he unfairly left many illegal immigrants still in danger of deportation.

Dreamers had hoped their parents would be included, but the president stopped short of that, only extending protections to parents of children that have a permanent lawful status in the U.S.

Advocates said Mr. Obama missed a chance to commit to better treatment for those fleeing harsh conditions at home who want to seek asylum in the U.S. They had been hoping he would cancel a policy that allows families to be held in detention while awaiting a decision from a judge.

And gay-rights advocates, in particular, said their concerns went unheeded. They said that the president’s decision to limit his deportation amnesty to family ties excludes many of them, since their lifestyle doesn’t often include children who are the central focus of the president’s plan.

“As a community, we know that we do not fit the normal definition of families that continue to dominate public discourse. Many LGBTQ undocumented immigrants do not have families that are U.S. citizens or permanent residents that could allow them to qualify for the program,” said Yesenia Valdez, organizer for Familia TQLM.

The gay-rights groups said they also end up targeted by police, which means some of them — particularly transgender women — end up with criminal records more often than others, which could leave them unable to gain access to the president’s relief program.

The gay-rights groups said Mr. Obama’s plans would also still allow immigrants to be deported to countries where being gay is a crime — something they’d hoped he would change.

With the exception of those with criminal records, most other illegal immigrants who have been in the U.S. for some time ran little risk of deportation already, thanks to the president’s deportation priorities laid out over the last four years. But those who will get protected status under his new policies will get work permits and their new lawful status will allow them to get driver’s licenses in most state.

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