Immigrant in sanctuary waiting for Obama to act on immigration

It’s been nearly 60 days since Luis Lopez has been able to be home with his wife and two children, ages 2 and 5. Today,…
Immigrant in sanctuary waiting for Obama to act on immigration

Luis Lopez, an undocumented immigrant facing deportation, has spent eight weeks in sanctuary at a church in Arizona. He plans to stay there until Obama takes action on immigration. (VOXXI/Griselda Nevarez)

It’s been nearly 60 days since Luis Lopez has been able to be home with his wife and two children, ages 2 and 5.

Today, his family visits him at the University Presbyterian Church in Tempe, Ariz., where he has been living since Sep. 3. The 24-year-old sought sanctuary at the church to avoid being deported and separated from his family.

“I miss being next to them,” he said about his children. “It’s very difficult to be separated from them. When they visit me, they always ask me ‘when are you coming home?’ I don’t know what to tell them.”

Lopez fled to the United States to escape gang violence in Guatemala when he was 16 years old. He was put in deportation proceedings earlier this year over a minor traffic incident. In July, his attorney submitted a request for a stay of removal but it was denied, and Lopez was given an order of deportation.

SEE ALSO: Faith community offers protection to immigrants facing deportation

At first, Lopez thought he would only be living at the church for two weeks at the most. That’s because he was hopeful he would qualify for the relief from deportation that Obama promised to provide through executive action to undocumented immigrants by the end of the summer.

But the end of the summer came and Obama didn’t keep his promise. Instead, the president announced in September that he would delay taking executive action on immigration until after the Nov. 4 midterm elections. Obama’s decision to delay came amid pressure from some Senate Democrats who feared such action by the president would hurt Democratic efforts to hold on to the majority in the Senate.

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Despite the broken promises, Lopez said he is still “hopeful” that Obama will announce some sort of relief from deportations for undocumented immigrants, like him, after the elections. He plans to remain in sanctuary at the church until then.

Advocates push Obama to keep his promise

Like Lopez, immigration advocates say they hope Obama will deliver on his promise. They say they won’t tolerate any further delays and are renewing their calls for Obama to keep his promise of protecting millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation.

But as the president considers his options for executive action, some advocates worry he might fall short of their expectations. BuzzFeed reported earlier this week that the president is considering an order that would grant temporary protection from deportation and work permits to 3 million people, a number that advocates say falls short of what they want.

Others worry about the length of time undocumented immigrants would have to be residing in the U.S. in order to qualify for relief. The Obama administration is considering between five to 10 years of residency, according to BuzzFeed.

SEE ALSO: Hispanic Caucus urges Obama to act on immigration by holiday season

Another concern is that some parents of undocumented youth who’ve been granted deportation reprieve and work permits under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program may not qualify for relief.

“To us that’s not acceptable,” Erika Andiola, co-director of the Dream Action Coalition, told VOXXI. “We’re asking the president to consider our demands that we have made. We want him to act up on his promise and to actually give relief to families after the elections, or else this is going to be another broken promise.”

At the least, Andiola said, Obama should offer protection to undocumented immigrants who would benefit from the bipartisan immigration reform bill approved in the Senate last year. The bill, which stalled in the House, would have created a pathway to legal status and eventually citizenship for an estimated 8 million people.

Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, has similar demands. She said her group wants the Obama administration to go big on immigration.

“We’re hoping that the administration will be broad and inclusive and come up with a policy that benefits as many people as possible, ” Hincapie told VOXXI, adding that even some undocumented immigrants who recently entered the U.S. should qualify for relief.

Republicans warn Obama against executive action

Another concern for immigration advocates are Republicans who are warning Obama against taking executive action to protect millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation.

Breitbart News reported on Monday that Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus told supporters on a conference call hosted by TheTeaParty.net that immigration executive action by Obama would be “unconstitutional” and “illegal.” Priebus warned that the GOP would do everything it could, including going to court, to prevent Obama from taking action.

Then on Thursday, Republican Sens. Marco Rubio, John McCain and Lindsey Graham—all of whom helped draft the Senate-approved immigration reform bill—wrote a letter to Obama. They urged the president not to take executive action on immigration “until we have properly secured our southern border and provided for effective enforcement of immigration laws.”

SEE ALSO: Obama to Latinos: ‘I ask you to keep believing’

Despite these challenges by Republicans and Obama’s broken promises, Hincapie said she is “cautiously optimistic” that Obama will “do the right thing” and deliver this time around.

“I’m hoping that he’ll have the political backbone to really see that this is both in his interest for his legacy and that it’s good for the country economically,” she said. “Most importantly, this will be life-changing for the immigrants and their families who will benefit from this directly.”