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Oregon immigrants, activists celebrate Obama plan

By GOSIA WOZNIACKA

Of the Associated Press

PORTLAND — Tens of thousands of immigrants who lack legal status and live in Oregon will be eligible for protection from deportation and a federal permit to work legally under a plan announced by President Barack Obama.

Immigrant leaders and families, community members, elected officials and allies cheered at watch parties and living rooms across the state as the president gave his speech Thursday evening.

“This announcement is huge. It's huge for our kids who will not have to worry anymore about their father not coming home from work,” said Anastasia Hernandez-Vasquez, a Hillsboro resident whose husband lacks legal status. Hernandez-Vasquez, who watched the president's speech in Portland at the Center for Intercultural Organizing, cried after the announcement as she was surrounded by three of her American-born children.

“It's a huge weight taken off our shoulders,” she said.

The president plans to grant relief to immigrants who have lived in the United States for at least five years and are the parents of children who are American citizens or legal residents.

The existing program that offers temporary protection for “Dreamers,” young immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, will also be expanded by eliminating the limit on the age of the people who qualify.

That means up to five million of the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the country illegally could qualify.

Republicans have cast Obama's move as presidential overreach and arrogance.

About 120,000 immigrants in Oregon lack legal status, according to the Pew Research Center. They make up about 3 percent of the state's total population; most hail from Mexico.

Tens of thousands of them could qualify for immigration relief under the new plan. More than 80 percent of Oregon's 120,000 unauthorized immigrants had lived in the country for more than five years, data from the Migration Policy Institute show.

The institute estimates that up to 64,000 people in Oregon could be shielded from deportation under Obama's action — including nearly 50,000 parents of U.S. citizen children.

Many of the immigrants who lack legal status work in Oregon's nurseries, orchards and farm fields, so the state agriculture industry has been especially supportive of legalization.

“This action may help agriculture because a lot of our workers have been with us five to 20 years. But it doesn't create a guest worker program,” said Jeff Stone, executive director of the Oregon Association of Nurseries.

Congress still needs to pass immigration reform, Stone said, but Obama's plan is a good first step because “it's about humanity, it's about economic growth.”

Some Oregon officials, including Gov. John Kitzhaber, praised Obama's action.

“As Oregonians, we believe in a fair shot for everyone. The President's message reflects those values of fairness and honors basic human rights,” Kitzhaber said in a statement. “This action is - unfortunately - only a stop gap.”

Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek and Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici also praised the president.

“In our state, his action will mean that thousands of Oregonians have the ability to safely pursue aspects of daily life that many of us take for granted,” Kotek said.

But activists and supporters said Obama's plan leaves the fate of many immigrants unresolved — including tens of thousands in Oregon.

“This will help people who have deep ties in the community,” said Andrea Miller, director of the Oregon immigrant-rights group Causa. “But millions of people have been left out of the process.”

State officials said they will be looking at whether to grant driver's licenses to immigrants granted the new relief.

In November, Oregon voters rejected a measure that would have granted driving privileges to Oregonians who can't prove legal presence in the U.S. Gov. John Kitzhaber supported granting the licenses, which were aimed mainly to serve Oregon's unauthorized immigrants.

But last January, after Obama granted work permits and relief from deportation to qualified applicants who came to the U.S. illegally as children, Oregon started to give driver's licenses to those eligible. They qualify for Oregon's “limited term” license — which is valid for the duration of the applicant's permission to stay in the U.S.

While Obama's new immigration relief will likely closely match the previous relief program, the Department of Motor Vehicles says it would not immediately begin to issue driving privileges.

The department would consult with the state's Department of Justice and the governor's office to determine whether some or all of the newly-protected immigrants meet Oregon's requirements for proof of lawful presence, spokesman David House said.

Comments

Bob

Oh good grief, they're here illegally, they are not qualified for anything from Oregon as to drivers' licenses. Remember? We just voted that down.

I'm looking forward to seeing what the 2015 Congress does to try and resolve some of these very difficult issues. It's impossible to find and deport 12 million illegals that we've allowed in our country. And it will prove very difficult to deal with the mess we've allowed to accumulate by not sending them back to their native country when they first entered illegally. The Rule of Law, ever hear of it? Do some Googling and get a grip on how far from our Constitution we've wandered.

Pray for our leaders to lead and not follow public opinion fomented by the liberal media.

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