SAN DIEGO—President Barack Obama unveiled one of the most sweeping changes to the U.S. immigration system in decades, shielding millions from deportation.
Among those breathing easier: a Mexican woman in Birmingham, Alabama, who barely missed qualifying for a reprieve in 2012 but can apply now because she has three U.S.-born children; a pair of 9- and 11-year-old brothers in Tucson, Arizona, who can stay under more generous guidelines for immigrants who arrived as children.
About 5 million people are expected to qualify under the measures outlined Thursday. But about 6 million who are in the country illegally will be left out.
Many who were recently deported also miss out.
The Associated Press interviewed immigrants around the country — and in Mexico — for examples of who wins and who loses.
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WINNER: Reyna Garcia, 32, almost qualified for Obama’s 2012 reprieve that allowed hundreds of thousands who came to the country as young children to remain. Her mistake was going to work for a cleaning crew instead of enrolling in high school. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program requires applicants to be attending high school or graduated.
The Mexican native has lived in Alabama for most of the last 17 years and gave birth to three children in the U.S. Parents of U.S. citizens or legal residents who have been in the country for more than five years are eligible.
Her oldest daughter, Yulexi Plata, 14, says it will be a relief for her parents to live without fear of deportation.
“If they’ve been here so long, why not more?” she asks.
But after having missed out once, Garcia worries.
“I have this fear that I may be missing something again. What might be the problem this time?”
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LOSER: Liana Ghica, 49, was a lawyer in Romania who came to the U.S. in 2001. She has unsteady work cleaning houses and managing bookkeeping in the Los Angeles area.
Ghica’s son studies at University of California, Los Angeles and is allowed to stay under the DACA program for immigrants who came to the country when they were young. However, their parents are ineligible under Obama’s plans.
“It is a slap in our faces,” Ghica says. “Personally I think (Obama) damaged us even more with this.”
Ghica came to the U.S. with a visa and job offer that fell through. She stayed, she said, to give her son a chance at the American dream.
Her son, Vlad Stoicescu-Ghica, 21, said DACA has enabled him to get campus jobs, put household bills in his name and get a credit card.
“It just makes a tremendous difference in terms of humanizing people and giving them the ability to stand on their own and not having to rely on others for their day-to-day activities,” he said.
Ghica questioned why parents whose children were born in the U.S. are allowed to stay and she isn’t.
“What is the difference? We all had the same dream.”
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WINNER: Rosa Robles Loreto’s 9- and 11-year-old sons were born in Mexico but have lived in Arizona for years. They didn’t qualify for a reprieve under the DACA, but Obama is expanding it to lift age restrictions and make anyone eligible who arrived before January 1, 2010.
“It feels good my kids are in. They’re the reason I’m here fighting,” she said after watchingObama’s speech at the Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, where she has been taking sanctuary for more than 100 days.
But she was sad that, after a summer of living in a small room with bunk beds, a TV, books and little more, she will not be able to go home. She faces a deportation order after being stopped for a traffic infraction years ago.
She has been living in the U.S. illegally since the early 1990s and returned to Mexico to give birth to each of her sons because she couldn’t afford health care.
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LOSER: Eduardo Vidal, 36, was deported to Mexico less than three weeks before Obama’sannouncement, separated from his Salvadoran wife and five U.S.-born children after police in the Los Angeles suburb of Palmdale stopped him for a broken tail light and discovered he had three DUI convictions.
Vidal spent much of his 22 years in the United States cleaning offices in Las Vegas and Southern California. He has no idea what to do next.
“I don’t know my way around. I have no money,” Vidal said as he waited with hundreds of others for a free meal of ground beef, squash, rice and beans at Tijuana’s Padre Chava breakfast hall.
Many at the breakfast hall are fluent in English and products of American schools. They have parents, spouses and children living in the U.S., often legally.
Sonia Vidal wants her husband to rejoin her in California. She is in the U.S. legally but doesn’t have permission to live in Mexico.
“The easiest thing would be for him to come here,” she said.
An administrator saw shock and fear in Vidal’s eyes as he waited in line. She offered him a free bed.
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WINNER: Jorge Romero-Morales and his wife, Clara, both 40, came to Oregon in 1996 and had two children — their ticket to remain in the U.S.
“We came to this country to work, not to ask for handouts,” he said.
Romero-Morales worked two shifts at restaurants and later joined a construction company. Clara was a community health worker and volunteered at her children’s school.
The couple bought a small home in Aloha, a Portland suburb. They take English classes.
Romero-Morales said he was always paid less than his American colleagues. He kept silent, he said, because he lacks a work permit and was afraid someone would call authorities.
“I feel happy that my parents might qualify,” said their youngest son, Naethan, 12, while wiping tears at their dining table. “They have worked so hard, and I don’t want to get separated from them.”
From The Associated Press. AP writers contributing to this story were: Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama; Amy Taxin in Santa Ana, California; Astrid Galvan in Tucson, Arizona; and Gosia Wozniacka in Aloha, Oregon.