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Immigration policy change lauded by some locals, but blasted by Republicans

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Saturday June 16, 2012

The atmosphere inside the office of Waco’s main immigration attorney was jubilant Friday afternoon, as clients affected by President Barack Obama’s executive order and their supporters celebrated what they say is a bright new chapter in their lives.

Susan Nelson said she represents a handful of teens and 20-somethings who should gain clearance to legally live and work in the United States under the terms of the policy change. But, likely thousands in Central Texas will benefit, she said.

As anecdotal evidence, Nelson pointed to this year’s graduating class at Waco High School. One of her clients, 19-year-old Luis Ortiz, was part of that class and estimated that about 25 classmates shared his dilemma of being in the country illegally.

“That’s just one high school class, one year . . . This doesn’t provide a path to citizenship, but it’s certainly the best (policy change) we’ve seen in a long time,” Nelson said.

Grecia Cantu, an illegal immigrant who was the 2009 valedictorian at University High School, also said there were others in her class who graduated in legal limbo. Although there are still a lot of “ifs” involved with Friday’s announcement, Cantu said she finally feels as if the clouds that have been hanging over her life are giving way to sunshine.

“A whole world of opportunity has opened up . . . We’re moving forward. We’re not stuck anymore,” said Cantu, now 20.

Waco alliance

Members of the Waco DREAM Act Alliance were also thrilled with Friday’s announcement.

The group formed in 2010 to advocate for the passage of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, which would have created a path to citizenship for some young adults brought here illegally as children.  Obama’s announcement means a major shift in the group’s activities this summer and fall, said member Anali Gatlin. The group will now focus on alerting the immigrant community about the new policy and helping them navigate the process of applying for a work permit, she said.

“This completely changes everything,” Gatlin said.

Some area Republicans, meanwhile, echoed national GOP leaders in saying Obama’s announcement was an attempt to woo Hispanic voters.

Ralph Patterson, incoming chairman of the McLennan County Republican Party, noted that the order will primarily affect people of voting age because immigrants must wait until they are 16 years old to apply for relief.  “This isn’t really about children,” Patterson said.  Patterson said he also objects to Obama going around Congress to achieve a policy goal. When legislation is filed, robust debate can develop beforehand. Not so with an executive order, he said.

“One person being able to make such a sweeping change doesn’t sit very well with me,” Patterson said.

Duke Machado, founder of the Hispanic Republican Club of McLennan County, said Friday’s announcement was simply hype. He noted that policy change affects only a small number of illegal immigrants. There are other approaches, such as a national guest-worker program Texas Republicans approved as part of their party platform earlier this month, that would lead to more comprehensive reform, he said.  “It’s not really resolving the problem,” Machado said of the policy change. “It’s just carrot-dangling. I hope Hispanics don’t fall for it. It’s too little, too late.”

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