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San Diegans React To Obama’s Immigration Orders

President Barack Obama’s announcement to defer deportation and provide work permits to millions of people living in the U.S. illegally provoked a range of reactions across San Diego County.

About 180,000 immigrants live illegally in the county, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.

Patricia Serrano joined a dozen other pro-immigrant activists to watch Obama’s speech Thursday at the Palomar Unitarian Universalist Church in Vista. Serrano said she was sad that many people living in the U.S. illegally wouldn't qualify for deportation relief under Obama's executive action.

Photo by Jill Replogle

Patricia Serrano said many of her friends won't quality, as she watched President Obama's announcement of executive action shielding some immigrants from deportation, Nov. 20, 2014.

“Many of my friends won’t qualify,” she said.

Serrano, however, does qualify for a work permit and deferred deportation under Obama’s executive action. She and her husband came here 21 years ago from Mexico, and they have a son who’s a U.S. citizen.

She's clear that Obama’s fix for people like her is temporary, and she’s not happy about that. But she is looking forward to living more openly.

“Just to have the tranquility," Serrano said, "not watching over my shoulder if there’s police or immigration. Because I always live in fear.”

By the time Obama started speaking, most people at the watch party had already gotten more details about the action than he’d give in his speech. There were no surprises, no applause from the audience.

But most people gathered at the church said Obama’s move was a good first step.

Dan Stracka, a lawyer and president of UURISE, a church program that provides immigration counseling and refugee resettlement services, said the immigration system needs fixing.

"And if Congress isn’t going to act, the president had to do something," Stracka said. "What he’s doing is legal. I don’t care how you label it. I think it’s legal.”

Maribel Solache was also pleased with Obama’s announcement, even though she won’t qualify for immigration relief.

“I am happy because many parents (are) living here for many years," Solache said. "They have kids, American citizen kids. They are hard workers, and I am really happy for them.”

Solache has lived in the U.S. for 10 years, but both of her children were born in Mexico. She does see something for her family in Obama’s plan, though: Long-term residents with no criminal records won’t be targeted for deportation.

“I don’t have documents, but I don’t feel really worried because I know I am not a criminal,” she said.

Photo by Megan Burks

Paty Newman says President Barack Obama shook the foundation of American law when he announced he'll unilaterally grant temporary legal status to immigrant parents of children born in the U.S., Nov. 20, 2014.

Paty Newman of Bonsall is also from Mexico. But she isn't comforted by Obama's order. Newman said immigrants like her come to the United States to get away from government corruption — to go some place where laws are certain — but she said she believes Obama and his actions are "lawless."

"You come to this country because you know that the law applies equally to everybody. It doesn't matter if you're poor, if you're rich, if you're brown, white, yellow. This is part of the confidence of coming to this nation," Newman said. "When our president, (who) is supposed to faithfully execute our laws, does something like this unilaterally, it shakes the foundation."

Obama said he doesn't need congressional approval because his plan won't extend full asylum or citizenship to immigrants who qualify for the program. But Newman said regardless of its legality, it's a bad idea for U.S. workers, particularly working-class Latinos.

"I think other Hispanics should pay attention because they're being fooled that this is good for them. It's not good for them," Newman said. "They will lose their jobs to the new legal workers."

She's referring to qualifying immigrant parents who would get work permits under the program but not be eligible for health benefits. Newman said that could make them more competitive in a tepid, post-Recession job market where more and more employers are required to cover their workers under the Affordable Care Act.

Despite her disapproval of the president's action, Newman said she doesn't want congressional Republicans to retaliate against Obama. She said she wants them to focus on speeding up the existing process for granting immigration visas so those who enter the U.S. labor market are on the same playing field as those already here. Newman does, however, want Congress to defund the deportation deferment program.

Newman is one of many conservative Latinos tapped by the political advocacy group Tea Party Patriots to draft a formal response to the president.

Correction: This story originally stated Paty Newman is an immigrant. Newman was born in the United States but was raised in Mexico.

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