Immigrants anxiously wait as Obama’s speech looms

Posted at 12:13 PM, Nov 20, 2014
and last updated 2014-11-20 12:14:46-05

(CNN) — Mario tries not to get his hopes up when he hears sweeping immigration changes are coming.

After all, this isn’t the first time a politician has promised to fix things for his family.

“They’ve been talking about this for years,” he says. “I don’t take it very seriously. My wife is happy about it. But we are always realistic. We’ll believe it when we see it.”

The 48-year-old undocumented immigrant has been living in the United States for 14 years after leaving his home in Mexico in search of better job prospects. He found them, and he’s worked on farms in south Georgia harvesting onions and packing pine straw for more than a decade.

When U.S. President Barack Obama unveils his plan for executive action on immigration Thursday night, Mario might be one of the people whose life changes as a result.

His 9-year-old daughter, the youngest of his three children, is a U.S. citizen. And if details leaked about Obama’s plan are true, that means Mario, who asked that only his first name be used to protect his family, could soon have a chance to get a work permit and avoid deportation.

The President’s plan to bypass Congress is a controversial move that has riled Republican leaders who say Obama is overstepping his constitutional bounds. It’s also come under fire from those who want a more extensive overhaul and drawn swift opposition from critics who call it an unfair amnesty that rewards lawbreakers.

Even among the millions of people who could be directly impacted by whatever Obama says, reactions are already mixed.

Some are excited, some are skeptical, some are anxious and some are angry. One thing is clear: When Obama speaks in a highly anticipated address Thursday night, they’ll be listening.

Hoping for better jobs

Marly, a recent high school graduate, says she’s anxious to hear what Obama has to say.

When Obama announced a program in 2012 that stopped the deportation of some young undocumented immigrants, Marly didn’t qualify because she’d only been living in the United States for three years.

But leaked details about the President’s new plan suggest it could extend deportation deferment to a larger group of immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. Marly, who also asked to be referred to by only her first name, hopes she’ll get a chance to apply for the same benefits others have received under the so-called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

So far, the 20-year-old Maryland social work student says she’s lost a potential job and doesn’t qualify for some scholarships because she’s an undocumented immigrant.

Her parents work in landscaping and don’t make enough to pay for her and her siblings’ college education, Marly says.

Obama’s executive action “could help me, my parents and my siblings find a better job that could cover expenses,” she says.

‘We’ve been talking about it all day and all night’

Speaking from their California home, the Navarro family told CNN en Español they can’t contain their happiness.

Even though they don’t know the details of Obama’s proposal yet, they said they think the fact that they’ve followed the law and paid taxes during their 20 years living in the United States will be points in their favor.

“It is going to be a great relief, because I am not the only person who is in the shadows. There are so many,” Claudia Navarro said. “The only thing I ask for is a work permit and a driver’s license. That is all.”

But it’s unclear whether Obama’s executive action will give Navarro and her husband that chance. Both of their children received deferred action under the 2012 rule Obama enacted, but they’re not U.S. citizens. Some sources have said the parents of children who were granted deferred action won’t be included in this week’s announcement.

Felipe Diosdado says he’s worried that even if he qualifies for the new plan, others he knows might not.

A heating and cooling contractor in Chicago who says he’s lived in the United States for 17 years after immigrating from Mexico, Diosdado says he’s also concerned about what the requirements will be.

“Nobody knows what exactly the rules are going to be. … It’s so confusing,” he said.

Still, the 36-year-old undocumented immigrant father of two U.S. citizen children says he can’t wait to hear what Obama will say.

“We’re really excited,” he said. “We’ve been talking about it all day and all night, how things are going to change for our family, for our friends.”

Constant fear

Maya Ledezma says the future of her 6-year-old daughter, Heather, is on the line.

“I feel powerless, but my motivation is my daughter,” she says

Heather is a citizen born in the United States. But her mother is an undocumented immigrant.

“The fear of getting deported is always there…even when I go to the store,” says Ledezma, who immigrated to the United States from Mexico in 2005.

Getting deported, she says, would tear her family apart.

“I want my daughter to be reassured that she will always have her parents with her,” Ledezma says. “I want her to go to college, have a career.”

She says she has tried to be a “good citizen,” paying taxes, learning English and volunteering at her daughter’s school in New Carrollton , Maryland.

“Whichever action he takes would impact us as parents … but also my daughter’s future,” she says. “The President has the future of this nation in his hands, the children.”

Mario says his children have also been on his mind.

His 18-year-old daughter Celeste is among the more than half a million young undocumented immigrants, known as Dreamers, who received deferred action under Obama’s 2012 rule. But last year she told CNN she still felt like a huge rock was weighing her family down. Immigration reform, she said, was necessary to help people like her parents.

Without that, she said, receiving deferred action was “like being out in the cold and me having the only blanket in the family.”

Particularly for his children’s sake, Mario says he hopes Obama will take steps to help his family in Thursday night’s speech. For years, he’s feared the possibility of deportation and worried his family could be separated.

But Mario says he knows nothing is certain when it comes to such a politically controversial issue.

“Everything is in doubt. Suddenly everything’s up. Suddenly everything’s down,” he says. “Politicians always change their minds. Only they know what they’re going to do.”

No matter what Obama announces, Mario says he’ll respond the same way.

By going back to work.