The longtime immigration rights activist and small business owner from Arvada was thrilled for the roughly 5 million people – including his sister – who will be eligible to step out from the legal shadowlands after President Obama’s executive order halting deportations and offering temporary residency for undocumented immigrants takes effect.
But as Madera understood it, he would be among the 6 million undocumented immigrants who won’t qualify for the new program. And it was worse than that. He had been told that those who came here when they were 15 years old or younger could stay in the country legally.
Madera – now 36 — arrived from Jalisco, Mexico, when he was 16.
“One year,” he said Thursday morning. “I’m being left out because I came here one year too early.”
By Thursday afternoon, an hour before Obama’s speech, Madera’s mood shifted. His lawyer had called to say that maybe, just maybe, he might make the cut if the administration lifts the age cap for eligibility, as was being interpreted by documents issued from the White House.
The details about who specifically will be allowed to stay in the U.S. were murky, even after the president’s speech. Immigration attorneys, reform advocates and the news media couldn’t say for sure who’s in and who’s out under today’s executive action.
The Washington Post reported Thursday night that, “In addition to his plan to protect some immigrant parents from deportation, Obama is also expected to expand a 2012 program that has deferred the deportations of nearly 600,000 younger immigrants known as ‘Dreamers,’ who were brought into the country illegally as children. (The name comes from the Dream Act, proposed legislation that Congress has failed to pass.) Obama’s plans would expand that program by raising the maximum current age from 30 and raising the maximum arrival age above 16. However, it is not known how many years of eligibility he will add at either end or how many more people will be covered.”
By Thursday evening, Madera felt hopeful, and terrified, and terrified of being hopeful that he can stay in the country where he runs a painting and tree service, and where his entire family lives, and where he has spent more than half his life yearning for the most basic of human needs – legitimacy and belonging.
It came as a blow in September when he was returning from a vacation and plucked out of a line at the Fort Lauderdale airport, and then detained at a U.S. Immigration and Customs (ICE) facility for 24 days. Since then, he has had trouble sleeping
“They know my address,” he said. “I’m worried they’ll come and get me again.”
Madera has channeled his energy into activism. He volunteers with Together Colorado, a grassroots organizing group trying to help other immigrants navigate the maze of U.S. immigration policy. Reform in any form is better than none at all, he figures.
“I’ve been sad – beyond sad – today. And I’ve been happy – beyond happy. Up and down and up,” he said Thursday.
He was half laughing, half crying late into the evening about the fact that the rest of his life may hinge on the fine print of today’s executive action.
“I was trying to just be glad for the people who qualified, even if I didn’t,” he said. “But right now, right this minute, I’ll be honest. I don’t really care about the 11 million immigrants in the United States. I’m just thinking about myself right now. And I’m confused and don’t know what to think and don’t know what to say. It’s giving me a headache. I have a headache.
For a man who has spent 20 years in uncertainty, waiting another night seemed doable.
“Maybe everything will be more clear tomorrow,” he said.