Iowa immigrants cautiously optimistic on new deportation policy

'Hopefully this will have some positive results'

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As the Obama Administration on Friday touted the 800,000-some young immigrants who will benefit from a policy change to stop deporting them if they meet certain requirements, a local immigrant advocate expressed his doubts.

“This is really late in the game based on what was said and promised in this last election cycle,” said Rev. Rudolph Juarez, an Iowa-City based pastor at St. Patrick’s Church and a member of the Sanctuary City Committee, a group pushing for the provision of basic needs to local immigrants regardless of legal status.

“To me, this is really a game of politics,” Juarez said. “I don’t believe it until I see it.”

The Obama Administration’s new policy will affect people under age 30 who came to the United States before age 16, are not considered to be a criminal or security threat, and were successful students or military servicemen or women, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

Participants must live in the United States with proof they have been here at least five straight years. The new policy defers deportation for two years and allows people meeting the requirements to apply for work permits, according to the administration.

In Iowa City, following the urging of the Sanctuary City Committee, the City Council agreed in November to take steps to be friendlier to immigrants – although the council declined to establish a “sanctuary city policy” that would have meant city employees don’t ask about immigration status or enforce federal immigration laws.

Jaurez said he’s hopeful Iowa City leaders will make structural changes to the local government to create a more welcoming community for immigrants, but Juarez maintained that – at this point – the president hasn’t earned his trust.

President Obama’s actions are coming a little too late, although just in time for his re-election campaign, Juarez said. And, even though the White House tallied hundreds of thousands who will benefit from the change, Jaurez said he’s not so sure. Typically, he said, the immigrants under the microscope of the federal government are not the young, successful students without criminal records.

“I’m very skeptical, but we’ll see what happens,” Jaurez said. “Hopefully this will have some positive results.”

Lori Chesser, a Des Moines-based immigration attorney and chair of the Iowa Immigration Education Coalition, said she's encouraged by the administration’s about-face on Friday and is hopeful it will lead to more dialogue and substantive long-term change.

“This is just a two-year deferral and work permission, but I’m hoping it will reignite the discussion in Congress so that we can get to some real solutions,” Chesser said.

She said Iowa has many immigrants who could benefit from this policy change, but she hopes everyone consults with an attorney or legal expert before signing up to receive the deferral.

“When you come forward to the government, you’ve got to make sure you’re doing the right thing for your case,” Chesser said.

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