President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration will affect about 5,000 undocumented people in Louisiana’s capital city by keeping them united with their families, according to two Baton Rouge women who have spent years reaching out to immigrants.
Maria Rosa Eads and Corina Salazar, both affiliated with the Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge, are bracing for the challenge of helping immigrants navigate Obama’s plans to protect them from being deported.
To be eligible for the changes, immigrants have to be parents or spouses of U.S. citizens or permanent residents who have been in the nation for five years, according to The Associated Press. Obama’s action will affect more than 5 million undocumented immigrants nationwide, most of whom will be allowed to apply for work permits and experience protection from deportation.
Obama’s plan does not provide a path to citizenship and could be reversed by future presidents.
“It is a win in the sense that the integrity of the family will remain,” said Salazar, the refugee and immigration services director for the diocese’s Catholic Charities. “And that is a win for everybody, not just the Catholic Church.”
Eads, director of the diocese’s Hispanic Apostolate, is from Mexico and moved to the United States more than 30 years ago when she married her American husband.
She said the number of Hispanic immigrants making Baton Rouge their new home has increased since she first came here, and that many have been praying for immigration reform for years.
She called Obama’s actions “a blessing.”
Eads said the Hispanic Apostolate serves about 300 people a month and responds to about 100 calls a day.
“That’s what God tells us to do,” Eads said. “We are supposed to help our neighbor, regardless of their legal status. That’s the way I feel. I’m here to serve the people. I don’t ask for papers.”
Salazar said Catholic Charities plans to host workshops in the city and around the state to explain how Obama’s proposals will affect people. Catholic Charities is scouting for money and volunteers to help make the workshops happen. Salazar already anticipates being short on help when tax season rolls around with many more immigrants now filing taxes.
Salazar also warned that scam artists with no licenses to practice law are likely to set up shop offering to help immigrants navigate their way through the legal process — for a fee.
She said immigrants need to verify that they are working with licensed lawyers and should stay away from anyone who offers to “hold their place in line,” because no such line exists.
Salazar said she expects Obama’s changes to affect the nation’s Social Security system because immigrants will be paying taxes and receiving Social Security cards. She also predicted that the immigration measures could help the economy, especially as immigrants build up credit and try to purchase houses.
Obama’s changes also come on the heels of Catholic Charities’ Louisiana Esperanza Project, which provides immigrant children in the state with legal services so they do not skip their court dates or go to court by themselves.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu said she disagrees with the president’s actions on immigration, hoping the latest controversy doesn’t worsen her campaign difficulties.
Landrieu said while she understood frustration with the “broken immigration system,” Obama shouldn’t have taken unilateral action.
But Republicans on Friday were using Obama’s announcement as another point of attack against Landrieu. They see the immigration debate as a way to needle Landrieu and help Republican Bill Cassidy heading into the final stretch before the Dec. 6 runoff election.
State Republican Party Chairman Roger Villere described Cassidy as “a necessary check” on the president in contrast with Landrieu, who Villere called a “rubber stamp” for Obama.