South Sound immigration activists hopeful, yet uncertain after Obama’s speech

Immigration activists in the Puget Sound area said they still had questions Thursday after watching President Barack Obama’s address about how his executive action would affect the undocumented.

“He didn’t give a lot of details,” Maru Mora Villalpando said. “He sounded really apologetic for doing what he’s doing.”

She was part of a group of activists who watched the address together in Burien. They call themselves the Northwest Detention Center Resistance, and have been protesting deportations at the federal immigration detention center in Tacoma this year.

Villalpando is undocumented, came to the U.S. 22 years ago and has a 17-year-old daughter who is a U.S. citizen. She thinks all of that means she could benefit from the changes, which Obama said would allow such parents to apply to be shielded from deportation.

The D.C.-based Migration Policy Institute estimates there are about 77,000 Washington parents who could qualify, and 28,000 people could qualify under changes to the program for young immigrants. That part of Obama’s plan would expand the number of people protected from being deported, who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

“I just think about those who are not parents of U.S. citizens,” Villalpando said. “How this does not benefit them, as far as we can tell.”

She said she also worried that the undocumented LGBT community, many of whom do not have children, that would not benefit from the changes.

Alma Gutierrez, who helped found the Burien-based Colectiva Legal del Pueblo, thought she too might qualify.

Her nonprofit provides legal representation to people with low incomes, and she hoped the undocumented would wait to get all the details about the president’s action before hiring attorneys to prevent being taken advantage of.

What the president had to say sounded good, she said, but she wanted more details.

“What if you are pregnant and your baby’s not born yet?” Gutierrez wondered.

It also wasn’t clear, she said, what types of crimes would disqualify someone from benefiting from the changes.

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement website Thursday said the agency would use the new priorities to determine which undocumented people to arrest, detain and deport.

“ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations will be proactively reviewing the cases of individuals in its custody,” the website said.

Jose Moreno, who was held at the Tacoma detention center for five months after he said he was charged with driving while intoxicated, was concerned about what would happen to people still being detained.

He still is going through immigration proceedings after he was released on bond in March, and said he has no children and does not qualify for Obama’s program.

“I just don’t think I should thank the president,” he said. “I didn’t hear nothing about the people who are being detained. I’m very worried.”