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Sweeping immigration bill brings guarded optimism

April 16, 2013|By Marisa Gerber
  • Saira Barajas, 21, left, with her mother, Maria Galvan, 43, at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles.
Saira Barajas, 21, left, with her mother, Maria Galvan, 43, at the Coalition… (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles…)

For many people living in the United States illegally, news Tuesday of a sweeping immigration overhaul bill elicited feelings of relief and guarded optimism.

For Maria Galvan, 43, it meant she might be able to finally stop working odd jobs, like the one at a curtain factory. Maybe she can even open her own hair salon, a dream she had all but abandoned. And maybe, with some time, she can train herself not to slam on the brakes every time she sees a policeman.

“It makes me happy to know we’re being heard,” said Galvan, who crossed into the country illegally through Tijuana 13 years ago. “If this happens, it will be such a relief.”

For Galvan-–and most of the 11 million others in the country without authorization-–the newly unveiled bill paves a 13-year-path toward citizenship and creates a new probationary legal status that would let people work and drive in the country without the fear of deportation.

She still has a lot of worries about the bill shaped by a bipartisan group of eight senators-–mainly how long and expensive the process will take-– but Tuesday was a day to celebrate, she said.

Galvan and others gathered at the Los Angeles headquarters of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles on Tuesday morning to discuss the bill.

A smile spread across her face as she turned to her 21-year-old daughter, Saira Barajas, who was granted a two-year deportation deferral in November because she came to the U.S. as a child.

Galvan closed her eyes for a second and imagined  a life at a salon, a life of regular hours with regular customers.  Her voice dropped a bit, it was quieter and sweeter.

“I could actually do that now-–finally,” she said. “And I could even start my own business.”

“And that creates a fountain of other work, other jobs,” her daughter said, chiming in with a sound bite crafted after years of fielding complaints that immigrants, like her mom, take jobs away from U.S. citizens.

The bill offers an expedited path to citizenship for young people like Barajas, who left her native Mexico City for the United States when she was 8.

The pain she feels for her mom muted her excitement at the prospect of a speedy process, though.

“My mom’s already been here 13 years, and now another 13 years,” she said, as she shook her head. “I want to see [her] dreams come true as well.”

For Eva Aucapina, who stopped by the coalition's headquarters Tuesday morning to discuss how the bill would affect her, said there is not much to celebrate yet.

“I can’t say I’m thrilled,” she said. “Until I see a document in my hand I won’t be happy.”

The 52-year-old with sunken, dark eyes admits her outlook is probably a bit jaded because of what happened the year after she arrived in the U.S. with a tourist visa.

It was 1985 and she decided not to return to her native Ecuador. The next year, President Reagan signed his amnesty law, but she didn’t qualify for it because she hadn’t been in the country long enough.

“There will be a lot of people who get stuck along the road and never make it,” she said.  “There are fees and a long, long wait.”

Aucapina knows firsthand how long it takes to get immigration changes processed. Her sister, who is a citizen, petitioned for her residency in 2001.

“I’m waiting,” she said. “I’m waiting to see if I’ll really be one of the chosen ones.”

For Xiomara Corpeño, director of organizing at CHIRLA, news of the bill itself is reason to celebrate.

“Before it was just conjecture, conjecture, conjecture. But now we have something to react to,” she said. “In a way, we already won.”

Corpeño does have some concerns, though, particularly with the 10-year wait time.

 “We’re worried about some of our older workers,” Corpeño said. “How do we do something that’s timely and reasonable?”


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