President Biden has quickly moved to change U.S. immigration policy.
Biden signed executive orders related to immigration on his first day in office. Among the orders is one that stops work on a U.S.-Mexico border wall. Another ends a travel ban on people from several mostly Muslim countries. Biden also has ordered his Cabinet to work on ways to prevent the deportation, or removal from the country, of people brought to the U.S. as children.
In addition, Biden said he wants to develop a plan to give citizenship to about 11 million people without legal status in the United States.
“This sets a new narrative, moving us away from being seen as criminals and people on the public charge,” said Yanira Arias. It opens the door for us to one day become Americans, she said.
Arias is a Salvadoran immigrant with Temporary Protected Status. It is given to people who are temporarily prevented from returning to their countries safely. Arias lives in Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory. She is among about 400,000 people given special status after fleeing violence or natural disasters.
Arias is also a leader of national campaigns for Alianza Americas, an immigrant advocacy group.
The most recent attempts at immigration reform have not succeeded. They happened in 2007 under former President George W. Bush and in 2013 under former President Barack Obama.
Ofelia Aguilar watched Biden take office and give a speech on television with four other women farmworkers in Homestead, Florida. She said she believed immigration reform was possible.
“There is hope!” Aguilar cried out after Biden was sworn in. “So many people have suffered,” she said.
Aguilar was pregnant and alone when she came to the U.S. from Mexico in 1993. She was a farm worker for years before starting her own business farming jicama root.
Some of the farm workers at the small gathering said they were saddened that Biden did not talk about immigration in his speech.
“I have faith in God, not in presidents,” said Sofía Hernández. She is a farmworker who has lived in the United States without legal status since 1989.
Hernandez came from Mexico seeking economic opportunity. Her three children were born in the U.S. and she would send money to her family back home before her parents died.
“My dream is to go and see my family and come back to stay with my children,” Hernandez said.
In New York, Blanca Cedillos said she also was unhappy that Biden did not talk about immigration. She watched the speech with six other immigrants at the Workers Justice Project, a nonprofit organization.
The Salvadoran woman lost her job taking care of children during the coronavirus pandemic. Now, she cleans houses and gets food donations from a nonprofit that serves immigrants.
Cedillos has lived in the U.S. without legal documents for 18 years. She hopes to one day visit her four children in Central America, then return legally to the U.S.
Building worker Gustavo Ajché watched a Spanish language broadcast of Biden’s speech with Cedillos. Ajché came to the U.S. from Guatemala in 2004.
“I don’t want to get too excited because I might get frustrated afterward,” Ajché said. “I have been here many years. I have paid my taxes. I am hoping something will be done.”
Tony Valdovinos is a campaign advisor in Phoenix, Arizona. He said he is not celebrating. He is among those in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. The program protects immigrants brought to the U.S. as children from being deported. “It’s hard to put your heart into it when these things have failed in the past,” he said.
Maria Rodriguez is director of the Florida Immigrant Coalition in Miami.
“I’m so happy and relieved, but we are still afraid of getting our hearts broken again,” she said. “We’ve been through this so many times.”
Los Angeles janitor Anabella Aguirre thinks about her daughters and herself. Both daughters are in the DACA program and now starting jobs.
“Like thousands of mothers and fathers, I want for my daughters to have something better in this country,” Aguirre said.
I’m Alice Bryant.
The Associated Press reported this story. Alice Bryant adapted it for Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.
Words in This Story
narrative –n. a story or way of talking about something
status –n. a state of being often in relation to the law
advocacy –n. to act in support of a cause or proposal
jicama –n. a root vegetable similar to a potato or turnip
opportunity –n. an amount of time or a situation in which something can be done
frustrated –adj. unhappy or angry because you cannot do what you want
relieved –adj. feeling better because things are easier now
janitor –n. a person who cleans a building