WASHINGTON -- As immigration reform was dying on Capitol Hill, a 6 a.m. knock on Jose Castillo’s door delivered reality in the bluntest terms.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers awoke the 47-year-old father of two and owner of a construction business in Orlando on a Sunday in September, picking him up on a deportation order from two decades ago. Castillo, who has lived in the United States since he was 14, was detained for nearly seven weeks. He has been granted a one-year stay but still faces deportation to Mexico.
Speaking of Congress, Castillo says: “I was hoping they would really do something so I don’t have to worry.”
More than 11 million undocumented residents across the country (about 740,000 in Florida) — two-thirds of whom have been in the country a decade or longer — are grappling with the effects of legislative paralysis.
Hopes rose in June when the Senate passed a comprehensive reform bill, which would dramatically increase border security while bringing immigrants into the open.
But those hopes were deflated as the months went on and the House remained a sticking point. The once intense focus on immigration has been replaced by battles over the budget and health care.
The human costs of inaction continue to build: Hundreds of thousands of people are deported annually — some 150,000 since the Senate bill was passed — the very people the bill would have legalized and put on a path to citizenship.
Countless others fear they will be next.
“You see people just trying to come here and work and find a better life,” said David Castillo, 22 and a U.S. citizen. “It can just all be taken away from you no matter how much you helped the country out. My dad provides people with jobs. He’s a taxpayer. He contributes more than he takes away.”
Across town, Martha Rosales fears her undocumented mother could be deported, as her father was in 2008. “Whenever she leaves for work or the store, she might not come back. It’s a horrible feeling,” said Rosales, who was carried across the border with Mexico when she was 2.
Rosales, 21, attained legal status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that President Barack Obama began in 2012. That too is temporary; legislation to grant the youth permanent protection has been stalled for years and is part of the Senate bill.
“If another president decides to take it out, where are we going to stand?” Rosales said. “I feel safer, but what about my mom? What about the parents of every dreamer or every dreamer that was left out?” Dreamer refers to the Dream Act, failed legislation that Obama addressed through deferred action.
In Miami, Julio Calderon is left out. Deferred action applies to people who arrived in the United States before they were 16. Calderon came from Honduras a month after his 16th birthday. Now 24, his fear of deportation is mixed with a more pressing concern. He does not qualify for in-state tuition and cannot afford to enroll full time at Florida International University, where he wants to major in economics and political science.
“It makes me really, really mad,” Calderon said. “I’m missing all these opportunities because I was here a month late.”
His family is a mishmash of immigrant status: A younger sister is a citizen because she was born here, a younger brother is legal under deferred action and his twin brother is also undocumented.
I’m in limbo,” Calderon said.
LOBBYING TO NO AVAIL
Increasingly frustrated, immigration reform activists are confronting lawmakers in the hallways, going door-to-door in their districts and paying for ads. They have fasted and staged civil disobedience leading to arrest. Groups of conservative business and faith leaders have descended on Capitol Hill to press the case. On Wednesday, Obama met with faith leaders, including evangelical pastor Joel Hunter of the Northland Church in Orlando.
That same day, however, House Speaker John Boehner flatly said the House would not negotiate on the Senate bill and instead focus on a piecemeal approach. Dozens of activists are expected to make another run on the Capitol next week, sharing stories of families torn apart by deportations.
“I’m disappointed in all of them, Democrats and Republicans,” said Rosales, who traveled to Washington this month as part of her volunteer work with the faith-based organizing group PICO United Florida. “But it gives me more energy because we have to keep fighting for this.”
Prospects for reform have always been tough in the House. Many conservatives scoff at the Senate proposal as too vast and as amnesty, despite the penalties and hoops it made undocumented residents go through. Citizenship would take 13 years, for instance. There were bipartisan House talks but they fell apart amid policy disagreements. Several individual bills, mainly dealing with security, have been approved by committee but nothing has made it to the full chamber for a vote.
Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/11/16/3758416/as-momentum-for-immigration-reform.html#storylink=cpy
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