By Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – President Obama and the US Senate has agreed that immigration reform will be a top priority this year, but local advocates for undocumented immigrants are wary.
It’s estimated that more than 150,000 undocumented immigrants reside in Pennsylvania and for that population, the President’s focus on immigration reform was both exciting and empowering says Erika Almiron, Excecutive Director of Juntos based in South Philadelphia:
“It’s exciting to hear that the parties are sitting down to get this done. But we know that the main reason that their sitting down is because of the power that the Latino community has demonstrated during the last election and through all the demonstrations and civil disobedience that our community has done to raise awareness of the issues.”
Almiron says the community is optimistic about the President’s promise to include more visas and create a path for undocumented citizens, but there are still doubts.
“We are a little bit skeptical about the amount of attention being put on border enforcement, we are a little bit skeptical about using a national e-verify and we are trying to make sure that when we talk about keeping our families together that we are talking about all of our families.”
Almiron says a big fear is that reform measures will arbitrarily break up families, by giving some members citizenship while deporting others.
“It can be very divisive in our communities when some qualitfy and some don’t,” says Almiron. “Also, who can afford it? They are talking a lot about fines and back taxes.”
Natasha Kelemen, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition says another big fear is that the undocumented population will end up in limbo for years.
“There’s also concern about the timeframe. It shouldn’t be a decades long process.”
Kelemen says advocates want to provide input so that reforms are humane and keep families together.