On Monday, April 4th 2016 Congressman Don Beyer had dinner with a mixed immigration status family that included two DACA recipient children, one U.S. citizen child, and two parents anxiously waiting for the Supreme Court ruling on DAPA. The dinner was hosted by VACIR Chairwomen Leni Gonzalez at her Arlington home. Their story made both local and national headlines. The article below was written by Julia Preston of the New York Times which was published on April 16, 2016.
FAIRFAX, Va. — Jerry Pinto, an immigrant from Bolivia, has visions of opening a spacious carpentry workshop in this suburban city, with his name in bold letters over the door.
“I want a place where I can be visible,” he says wistfully. But for now he knows he has to lie low, because he is in the country illegally. He runs his carpentry business almost surreptitiously from the cramped garage behind his house.
Mr. Pinto is among more than four million unauthorized immigrants whose lives could be transformed by the Supreme Court. On Monday, the justices will hear oral arguments in a challenge brought by 26 states, led by Texas, to President Obama’s effort through executive action to give the immigrants legal work permits and protection from deportation.
Depending on the outcome, people like Mr. Pinto will have a chance to come out into the open or will remain, perhaps for years, in a twilight underground. And the stakes are high in this election year, since the two leading candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, Donald J. Trump and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, have both said they would deport all 11 million foreigners in the country illegally.
The larger of the president’s programs before the Supreme Court would benefit immigrants who are parents of United States citizens and legal permanent residents, if they pass background checks and have no serious criminal records.
Most of those parents have families like Mr. Pinto’s: an immigration mix that leads to differing opportunities and limits, and to openness, secrecy and fear all within one family.
His wife, Elvira, 47, is from Mexico, and also here illegally. His daughter, Ambar, 22, and son Jerry Rodrigo, 15, were born in Bolivia but have grown up like American children in Virginia, although without legal residency. His youngest son, Christian, 8, is the American-born citizen who makes his parents eligible for Mr. Obama’s program, should it be affirmed.
Mr. Pinto was the first in the family to come. He and his wife, whom he met while they were studying in Mexico to be economists, were middle-class professionals in Bolivia before the economy collapsed in the 1990s. They returned to Mexico, and in 2004 he joined a tide of Mexicans running the border into the United States. He recalls being lost for four days without water in the Arizona desert in the heat of high summer, his feet so blistered he had to crawl.
He made his way to Virginia where he had relatives, and he quickly discovered the work available to him without legal papers or a Social Security number was in construction — outdoors. He soon added a second trade, learning plumbing to work two jobs at once. Then he learned another skill, making exterior moldings. Several years ago he purchased an industrial saw that he installed in his garage and started his own company.
Still, Mr. Pinto said, “I can’t think about anything more than survival and making sure my children have something to eat.” Surrounded by the comforts of a well-to-do suburb, he sometimes could not pay rent and buy food.
His wife cleans houses to add to the family income. But even after more than a decade here, she is often reluctant to leave the house.
“I hear news on the radio of an immigration raid nearby,” she said, “and it makes me think I might go out tomorrow morning and never return to see my children.”
The Pintos know how the Supreme Court could change things for them because of what happened to Ambar. At first she was wary of signing up for an initiative by Mr. Obama in 2012, which gave a legal foothold to millions of young undocumented immigrants who came here as children, including authorization to work.
“I was giving my information to the government,” Ambar recalled. “They are going to know my dad’s and my mom’s full names, our address.” Eventually, she applied.
The impact was immediate. She got a secretarial job at a Washington law firm to help pay her college costs. Emboldened, she joined a campaign to persuade Virginia officials to let immigrant students in the program attend state colleges at the lower, resident tuition rates. Senator Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, was impressed by her zeal and invited her to be his guest at Mr. Obama’s State of the Union address in 2013.
She was present — bursting into tears — when a new Virginia attorney general, Mark Herring, announced in 2014 that he would allow the immigrants to pay resident rates. After two years of community college, Ambar will move on this year to a state university, George Mason.
Mr. Pinto observed his daughter’s gains with pride and a twinge of envy. “We have to stop having our own dreams and just think about the future of our children,” he said.
Like the youth program, Mr. Obama’s more recent initiative, known as Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, also offered temporary deportation deferrals and work permits, but no lasting immigration status. The immigrants would be able to get driver’s licenses in some states, to take out loans and own homes and businesses. The president also expanded the youth program, eliminating an upper age limit.
Like the Pintos, at least four-fifths of eligible parents have lived in the United States for a decade or more, according to a study by the Center for Migration Studies, a nonpartisan research center. About 94 percent are steadily employed. Roughly half say they speak English well or fluently.
The states that sued to stop the programs say Mr. Obama overstepped his powers and gave lawbreakers a quasi-legal status that Congress never approved, one that would burden their budgets with costs of services for the immigrants. An injunction was imposed by a federal court in Texas in February 2015, and upheld by the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans.
Sixteen states, including Virginia, and the District of Columbia submitted a brief to the Supreme Court supporting Mr. Obama, saying they expect to benefit through increased tax revenues from immigrants working legally and improved public safety.
Virginia officials are divided on the issue. “Do you go after gang members and drug dealers or spend those limited enforcement resources on breaking up families?” Mr. Herring, the Virginia attorney general who is a Democrat, asked in an interview. “To me, that’s an easy call.”
But Representative Robert W. Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican who is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, signed a Supreme Court brief opposing the programs. “The lack of respect for our immigration laws on the part of government officials and unlawful immigrants is not conducive to promoting respect for the rule of law in general, for preventing crimes and promoting public safety,” Mr. Goodlatte said. A decision from the court is expected in June.
The Pintos are waiting anxiously. Christian, the American citizen now in third grade, has understood for the first time what could happen if immigration agents came for the family. His father and siblings could be sent to Bolivia, his mother to Mexico, and he could be left in the United States.
“At first, like, I didn’t even know what the word immigrant meant,” Christian said. “Now I know that being a citizen means a lot to me because if I wasn’t born here, I wouldn’t be able to help my mom and dad live here.”
If the Supreme Court upholds the programs, Mr. Pinto will rush to apply. He will get a Virginia driver’s license (the one he has now is from Maryland). He will take out a loan to open his workshop, then go back for a mortgage to buy their home.
Hopeful, the family is already taking steps out of hiding, inviting a Democratic congressman, Representative Don Beyer of Virginia, to dinner earlier this month.
“I feel like an American,” Mr. Pinto said. “This is my country now.”