This post is also available in: Español (Spanish)
NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ–Tonight at 6:30pm and 8pm, inside the Unity Square Community center (81 Rmsen Avenue) in New Brunswick, there will be two Spanish-language information sessions regarding changes resulting from an Executive Order issued by President Obama last week.
On November 20, President Obama made a speech announcing the major immigration reforms.
The changes will provide protection from deportation for nearly 5 million immigrants living in the United States, including thousands in New Brunswick and across Middlesex County.
"As an undocumented immigrant, I have been living in the United States for over 20 years with the fear that me or my spouse might be separated from our children," said Juan Diaz, lay leader at Sacred Heart Church, member of Faith in New Jersey, and father of four.
"The president's decision will protect my family from deportation and will ensure that I can remain in the country with peace of mind," said Diaz.
Despite offering some degree of comfort for many immigrants, many will not be eligible for the protection this order provides.
To qualify, individuals must have lived in the country for over five years, have children who are citizens or legal residents, register and pass criminal background checks and pay their fair share of taxes.
The order would not apply to recent or future immigrants, nor grant citizenship or full benefits and rights to individuals.
"It's really a bittersweet moment for us" says Carlos Rojas, a Faith in NJ organizer who hosted "a watch party" for Obama's announcement insidethe historic church.
"Some qualify and some don't."
"For the parishers of Sacred Heart, there are a lot of mixed feelings," Rojas explained that many active churchgoers have extended family members with whom they are still unable to live.
The move by the President grants a three-year reprieve for individuals who qualify for the protection.
Lenny Barria, longtime New Brunswick resident and student of Middlesex County College and Montclair State University, says she is excited because this means her mother will get the deferred action she needs to become a functioning member of society.
"I'll be becoming a citizen in November 2015, and I'll be asking or petitioning my mom for her residency," Barria explains to New Brunswick Today.
But one thing that concerns her is "the fact that they would have the names of all those people that have no papers," potentially making deportations in three years easier.
The fight over immigration reform in Congress has been long and arduous, leading to stagnation over a solution on how to handle the issue in recent years.
"We have waited too long on Congress to provide solutions for immigrant families. In the absence of leadership, we have asked President Obama to use his legal authority to respond to the pain of our immigrant families by addressing senseless deportations and detentions," said Sara Vidal, lay leader at St. Joseph's Church and member of Faith in New Jersey.
The goal is to ultimately make it easier for entrepreneurs, graduates, and other immigrants to contribute to the nation's economy, pursue higher education, and stay in the United States with the skills they learn here without the looming fear of deportation.
The order would also expand on current border protection and resources in order to stem the flow of immigrants into the country, which is already at its lowest point since the 1970’s.
New Brunswick's City Council recently voiced their support for immigrant rights, passing a resolution calling for the state to offer driving privilege cards for undocumented residents.
Immigrants are a big part of the city and the New Jersey community, and many have been here for decades trying to legitimize their residency.
New Jersey Policy Perspectives estimates between 250,000-550,000 undocumented immigrants in the state, with approximately 8.6% of New Jersey’s workforce being undocumented, the 4th highest in the country.
According to the Perryman Group, an economic analysis firm, without the contribution of undocumented immigrants, the state would lose $24.2 billion dollars in economic activity, $10.7 billion in GSP (Gross State Product), and over 100,000 jobs.