The Washington Post

Hispanic immigrants in Washington area welcome Obama’s reform efforts

Ricardo Campos, 23, center, and Katya Hernandez, 22, right, cheer as President Obama finishes his speech on immigration. Both of them are “Dreamers” and worked with CASA to pass the in-state tuition bill last year. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)

After the whoops and cheers greeting President Obama’s speech on immigration reform had died down around him, Mario Sandoval stared pensively into space for a moment. He thought back nearly 30 years to the day he fled war-torn Guatemala, bound for the United States. Then he nodded with satisfaction.

“It has been a long time, but finally our luck is turning,” said Sandoval, 52, a truck driver. “Soon, people will no longer be afraid to go to court. Soon, they will be able to go home and visit their families.”

Sandoval was among more than 100 Hispanic immigrants, many of them working-class refugees from Central America, who crammed into a small conference room at the Casa of Maryland agency in Hyattsville on Tuesday afternoon to watch the president’s speech on TV. They sat in silence, craning to hear every word, and burst into applause when Obama spoke of their right to achieve full American citizenship.

Organizers from the immigrant advocacy group echoed the audience’s excitement over Obama’s far-reaching call for a path to legalization for the country’s 11.1 million undocumented immigrants, which has been bolstered by the overwhelming support for his reelection by Hispanic voters. Similar positive reactions came from a variety of immigrant advocacy groups across the country late Tuesday.

However, the Casa officials also cautioned that any legislative proposals for legalization will face major political hurdles in the coming months, especially from conservative Republicans in the House and their highly vocal grass-roots supporters. As soon as Obama’s speech ended, the organizers called for a nationwide legalization campaign, to be highlighted by a mass rally in Washington on April 10.

In a speech in Las Vegas, President Obama described guidelines for immigration reform a day after a group of senators made their own proposal. White House correspondent David Nakamura discusses the timing of the announcements and the prospects for a deal. (The Fold/The Washington Post)

Kim Propeack, an official with Casa, noted that under the detailed proposal for immigration reform announced Sunday by a bipartisan Senate group, the fate of undocumented immigrants who hope to become legalized will depend on “uncertain future actions,” such as stepped-up border enforcement and employer identification programs.

“We are going to have to really push for this and not let go,” said Ricardo Campos Alfaro, 23, a student from El Salvador and youth leader at Casa, who will now be able to attend college under Obama’s decision to defer deportation for many young undocumented immigrants. “Obama sent us a great and clear message,” he said. “Now we have to help him.”

After Obama’s speech, the audience was full of questions. A middle-aged laborer from El Salvador asked whether people had to have a clean police record and pay their taxes to qualify for legalization. An office cleaner and union organizer from Colombia said she was “happy but a little scared” — worried that students would win legality but that older workers might be “left behind, wondering if the immigration people would come for us.”

But the overall mood was jubilant and determined. Many people in the room promised to skip work and bring their children to the planned rally in April, which will fall on a Wednesday.

“I have amnesty, so I can work and go home to see my family, but this is my battle, too,” said Sandoval, referring to temporary legal protection granted to Central American civil war refugees in past years.

“People had so much doubt before, and they were afraid of being deported,” he said. “Now we must all stand up together.”

Pamela Constable covers immigration issues and immigrant communities. A former foreign correspondent for the Post based in Kabul and New Delhi, she also reports periodically from Afghanistan and other trouble spots overseas.


Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments
Most Read


Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Your Three. Videos curated for you.
Play Videos
How to make Sean Brock's 'Heritage' cornbread
New limbs for Pakistani soldiers
The signature dish of Charleston, S.C.
Play Videos
Why seasonal allergies make you miserable
John Lewis, 'Marv the Barb' and the politics of barber shops
What you need to know about filming the police
Play Videos
The Post taste tests Pizza Hut's new hot dog pizza
5 tips for using your thermostat
Michael Bolton's cinematic serenade to Detroit
Play Videos
Full disclosure: 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, 1 ghoul
Pandas, from birth to milk to mom
The signature drink of New Orleans

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.