LA PUENTE — He wasn’t about to make any mistakes now. Mauricio Orellano went back to his house to make sure he had the right days listed. In order to fill out his citizenship paperwork, he had to have the exact dates when he left the United States and when he came back.
He went back to check his plane tickets. He always keeps stuff like that.
“There are so many papers to fill out,” he said during a citizenship application processing session at St. Louis of France Church in La Puente June 25. About 80 permanent residents turned out for the session, which is organized by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the Diocese of Orange and the Diocese of San Bernardino.
Immigrants to the United States can have many different legal statuses. Some are here on temporary worker visas, student visas or even athlete visas. Others have obtained permanent residency or have become citizens of the United States. Undocumented immigrants either overstay visas or entered the U.S. without authorization.
The local Church’s citizenship program encourages eligible permanent residents to become U.S. citizens. But there’s a lot of red tape.
Orellano knows all about it. He entered into the United States from El Salvador for the first time in 1988. When he returned two years later, he drove up to his girlfriend’s house in a new Toyota 4x4.
She fainted. After a few days, Orellano found out that she was pregnant and was with someone else. He met someone else, too — a woman who has been his wife for the last 24 years. They moved back to the United States together in 1991 and have three daughters, ages 8, 15 and 23. When they first moved back, they came as undocumented immigrants. But they’ve been legal residents for more than a decade.
“El Salvador, it’s much more difficult there,” he said, referring to the country having one of the highest rates of homicide in the world. “Here, our daughters have turned out well. They go to church, there is not one bad word spoken in our home.”
Orellano’s wife is already a U.S. citizen. He was never in a hurry to become a citizen, he said.
“People from here, they’re much more ambitious. They like to live well,” he said. “We come accustomed to not having anything. We’re used to that. I came just to work for my family.”
Take Orellano’s car. He says it’s a piece of junk. He’d rather use his money to pay for a nice home for his wife and daughters.
The recent Supreme Court decision about the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (or DAPA) will not affect Orellano. But he knows many in the community are concerned.
“The Supreme Court decision really does affect millions of people who potentially could have gotten some type of legal status,” said Shant Jaburian, an immigration attorney helping out at the session at St. Louis of France.
The Obama administration put in place the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, in 2012. Through DACA, children who entered the United States illegally before turning 16 were eligible to receive a renewable work permit and exemption from deportation, given these children met a list of other requirements.
The administration expanded that program and created the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA, in November of 2014.
Through DAPA, parents of children born in the U.S. who met certain conditions could stay in the country for up to three years without deportation. To be eligible they had to have lived in the U.S. for at least five years, passed a background check and would have to pay taxes.
According to the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., or CLINIC, an estimated 5 million people could have potentially benefited from the two programs.
The Supreme Court decision leaves in place a lower court ruling that blocked DAPA. The injunction does not affect DACA, according to CLINIC.
“Sometimes people think, ‘Oh, they’re going to go back home.’ They’re not going back home,” Jaburian said. “They have to have some type of legal status. They are human beings.”
The immigration attorney said there were safeguards in place to keep criminals out. “Of course, we don’t want terrorists coming into this country,” he said.
Still, those who live in the United States and have observed the law, whose children are often born here, do not always have a way to legalize their status, he said. They may not have a qualifying relative, for example, or are not eligible for other reasons.
“This election that’s coming up really puts things in the air,” Jaburian said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen. Your guess is as good as mine.”
Armando Vázquez-Ramos, a professor at the California State Long Beach Ethnic Studies program and coordinator of the California-Mexico Project, is also concerned about the ramifications of the upcoming election. He called the 4-4 decision a brutal blow to undocumented immigrants residing in the United States.
“It’s not surprising that this failed in the Supreme Court because there had been the expectation of a tie. While it’s tragic, the effect that it has doesn’t change the validity of the 2012 program. What it blocks is the broader protection of undocumented parents of U.S. citizens,” he said.
Vázquez-Ramos believes the growing Latino population will continue to contribute to the richness of the United States. A 2010 UCLA study, “Raising the Floor for American Workers: The Economic Benefits of Comprehensive Immigration Reform,” found that comprehensive immigration reform would benefit the economy.
According to the study, reform would add approximately $1.5 million to the United States economy over a 10-year period. Mass deportation, according to the study, would result in a loss of $2.6 million in gross domestic product in a decade.
“The [Supreme Court] decision is frustrating for those who look to strengthen our economy and to bring rationality to our immigration system,” he said. “It is distressing for the millions of immigrants that have made their lives here, who have established a family here, who have worked and paid taxes and serve in the military.”
Jeanne Atkinson, executive director of CLINIC, said Congress has the responsibility to “set aside partisan gamesmanship” and address the immigration crisis.
“DACA and DAPA were never intended to be permanent solutions to the fact that 11 million people in this country lack legal immigration status and most have no practical way of rectifying that,” she said.
“Only Congress can make the necessary changes to our immigration system, ensuring that millions of families have a path to legal residency and eventually citizenship in their adopted country.”
Martin Borunda sat next to his wife, Guadalupe, during the June 25 citizenship session at St. Louis of France. They came to the United States from Mexico in the late 1970s.
“We met at a dance,” Martin says. Guadalupe crooked her eyebrow.
“What?! It’s true! What’s wrong with meeting at a dance?”
The couple have three children and explained that if you’re related to a U.S. citizen, you’re more likely to find a way to become a legal resident and eventually a citizen. But it’s worth the effort, Martin said.
“A lot of people don’t understand what’s involved,” he said. “Some people don’t become citizens because they don’t particularly care to vote. They just come to work.”
Yet undocumented immigrants live in the constant fear of deportation, he said. “No one wants to be separated from their family,” Martin said.
Msgr. John Woolway, pastor of St. Louis of France, hosted the session because there are many in his community who are Latino and could become citizens.
An immigration task force composed of individuals from the Los Angeles Archdiocese, as well as the Orange and San Bernardino dioceses, launched the initiative in February.
“Because of the efforts of our parishes, people will be able to participate in a deeper way in the public life of the community they live in,” said Jaime Huerta, associate director of the archdiocesan Office of Life, Justice and Peace. “This benefits all of us since we are all the Body of Christ. In particular, people who have been permanent residents for years and who want to take on the greater role and responsibility of active citizenship in the country they live in.”
“People who are in this situation, you have to motivate them,” said Salvadoran Mauricio Orellano of those who are not yet citizens. “We Latinos are the future of this country. Young people are in the best position to help this country.”
Orellano said he was glad his daughters didn’t grow up in El Salvador, where gangs constantly recruit young people.
“If young people don’t see a future for themselves, young people become delinquents in the streets,” he said. “That’s how it is in El Salvador because young people don’t have opportunities. Without them, there is no future.”
Alicia Morandi contributed to this story.