Originally published June 18, 2012 at 11:30 a.m., updated June 18, 2012 at 3:59 p.m.
Lilia Velasquez, San Diego attorney specializing in immigration and nationality law.
Adrian Florido, reporter from the KPBS Fronteras Desk.
Lilia Velasquez, a San Diego attorney specializing in immigration law, said her office was flooded with calls Friday after President Barack Obama announced he was easing enforcement of immigration laws.
People of all ages who came to the United States illegally called, hoping the president’s announcement meant they could stay in the country and work.
Velasquez had to tell them the easement only applied to a small portion of the undocumented immigrant population: those currently younger than 30 who were brought to the U.S. before they turned 16. Immigrants must also have been in the country for at least five continuous years, have no criminal history and have graduated from a U.S. high school, earned a GED, or served in the military.
If these stipulations apply, they can apply for a work permit. About 800,000 immigrants are expected to be affected.
But callers to Velasquez’s office “thought it was a general type of benefit, like amnesty back in the 1980s,” she said.
When she told them the policy change did not apply to them, “they were very, very sad,” she said. Those just over the 30-year-old cutoff mark asked, “‘why couldn’t this come three years ago, why did Obama wait three years to do something this positive for the community?’” she said.
But, Velasquez said she thinks Obama was waiting for Congress to pass legislation, and only chose this measure as a temporary solution.
Congressman Brian Bilbray, who is running for re-election in the 52nd Congressional District, told KPBS he is against the policy change because he said it announces, "if you send your children to the United States illegally, (Obama) will make sure that they're accommodated and are given a work permit."
Instead, he said, the government should crack down on employers who exploit illegal immigrants.
"I just wish the people who were talking about this would have to go down to the border and recover bodies like I have," he said.
The policy change bypasses Congress and partially achieves the goals of the "DREAM Act," congressional legislation that would establish a path toward citizenship for the same group of young immigrants.
“What this policy is, we have a vulnerable group of kids who are bright, who are in school, let’s do something about that,” Velasquez said. “Let them get out of the shadow. Let’s benefit from the education we have already given them.”
She said she thinks the public agrees with the policy, even if many politicians do not.