When the results of the 2012 election rang in, it was apparent that Latinos voted overwhelming for Obama. Though bills have been in the works prior to the election, the Achieve and STEM acts highlighted republicans eagerness to recognize that the GOP stance on immigration is simply not working for them anymore.
But bills such as these have yet to pass, and will take years to implement.
Where does that leave the families currently undergoing the immigration process?
At the age of 62, Leonor Sanchez became a mother again.
She didn’t give birth to a child, but she assumed responsibility for her grandson, Miguel, after Maritza Jaimes voluntarily left the country in order to process her application for residency.
Maritza Jaimes has not hugged her son in three years.
She has heard his voice over the phone. She has seen his image on the computer. But she cannot raise her child due to setbacks in her case.
She is in Venezuela.
Her family lives in South Gate, California.
From January until October 2012, United States Citizenship and Immigration Service received 5,310,171 applications for immigrant benefits, including petitioning for citizenship or renewing benefits.
According to the USCIS website, applications are up 59 percent from October of last year.
In 2012, about 150,880 applications petitioning for an immediate relative (typically a spouse) were received.
6,578 of those were from Los Angeles.
Undocumented immigrants voluntarily leave the country in order for the USCIS to process their applications.
This means that thousands of families are undergoing what Jaimes and her family are dealing with — separation, financial hardships and a waiting game.
Jaimes’s husband, Esteban Hernandez, 50, filed the I-130 application for residency of an “immediate relative.” If a beneficiary, like Jaimes, has been in the country illegally for more than one year, a ten-year ban from re-entering the country goes into effect.
The I-601 waiver removes the ban if approved. Jaimes’ lawyer filed the I-601 in October.
The current processing time is four months. Or 90 days. Or seven to nine months. The information changes depending on which customer service representative answers at the end of the 800 number on any given day at USCIS.
In June 2012, representatives at USCIS said that the “lockbox” processing time was under three months.
In November 2012, the website changed — the processing time had been bumped up to four months.
The “lockbox” is a “centralized filing and adjudication” system, according to the USCIS website. This means that rather than waiting for a consulate outside of the U.S. to review an application, a center, such as the one in Anaheim or Nebraska, would handle the paperwork.
The idea was to speed things up.
Jaimes began her journey with her petition for political asylum — which failed.
According to John Manley, an immigration attorney in Los Angeles, political asylum is very hard to prove.
“You basically have to prove that the government is actively terrorizing you in your native country,” Manley said. “It becomes a he-said she-said scenario, because the government can just say they aren’t terrorizing you.”
Jaimes’ mother, Sanchez, said her lawyer didn’t explain the process in a straight-forward manner.
“He said it would be easy, that it would take two months,” Sanchez said in Spanish.
“And it has been three years since she’s been gone.”
Jaimes’ family and spouse, Hernandez, must prove that they are suffering from extreme hardship in order to bring her home.
Extreme hardship includes life or death medical problems the spouse or a family member has, financial hardship due to the income loss, and other factors. The need for both parents to raise a child or the family experiencing anguish due to the separation does not count as extreme hardship.
A “provisional waiver” is set to take effect possibly in January eliminating the separation, and allowing families to file the I-601 in the United States.
“It’s odd because physical separation does not count as ‘extreme hardship,'” Manley said. “But on the website it says in order to help with this extreme hardship you’re experiencing when separated, we’ll allow you to file in the U.S. It’s confusing and all very fuzzy to me, and it’s not yet in effect.”
An unforeseen hiccup has slowed the process even more.
In August 2012, President Barack Obama unveiled Deferred Action — a response to the DREAM Act being stopped in congress.
Children of immigrant parents brought to this country before the age of 16 are able to file for a “temporary status” to remain in the United States.
It does not provide a path to citizenship, nor legal residence.
“The workers must be inundated,” Manley said. “I don’t know if they’ve hired any additional workers to deal with the applications, but they never have in the past.”
So not only are workers dealing with the thousands upon thousands of typical immigration petitions, but due to the introduction of Deferred Action, are also now overloaded with new paperwork.
According to an article by KPCC, as many as 5,715 applications a day were coming in during the month of September.
Francisco Balderrama, a professor of Chicano Studies at Cal State University of Los Angeles, believes immigration “reform” is not enough.
“Reform is one of those huge words,” Balderrama said. “I think what we’re really talking about is a revolution. How do we respect the rights of people? How do we recognize that we are in a global society?
“There is too much respect for the movement of capital across borders. What about human beings?”
Balderrama also went on to say that any reform presented by republicans may not fair well.
“It’s window dressing,” Balderrama said. “People voted for Obama because we are an immigrant nation.”
Jaimes said she sees the U.S. as an immigrant nation as well.
“I understand that we didn’t [do] the correct thing but after we get there we act like we are from [here],” Jaimes said in Facebook chat. “Some times better — look I …pay taxes, went to school, did some volunteer work,” Jaimed said. “We just want a safe and better life.”
Sanchez believes separating families for the immigration process is an “error.”
“I hope that [the approval] comes soon, because I’ve been sick,” Sanchez said while openly weeping. She takes a big gulp, forcing back tears and continues. “I asked God to take me, but take me when Maritza has returned.”
South Gate to Venezuela