SOUTH ST. PAUL, Minn. - An announcement from the White House brought tears of joy to a family in Minnesota. Milton Rodriguez, 20, of South St. Paul was relieved that he will not face deportation to his native El Salvador.
President Obama ordered the Department of Homeland Security to stop deportations of the children of illegal immigrants if they meet certain criteria. The young people must have come to the United States before they were 16. They cannot be older than 30. They must have clean criminal records: no felonies or gross misdemeanors. They must be in school or have graduated from high school in America.
Rodriguez came to the United States at the age of 13. His parents, Juan and Maria, have been in Minnesota since 1995 with work permits. Two of their children were born here and, thus, are American citizens. Milton was facing deportation one year ago, when the community and teachers intervened and he was given more time to fight being sent back to El Salvador.
He believed he would be killed if he was sent back. Rodriguez has applied for a work permit, but it has been denied. Since the President's order allows those affected to apply for work permits, Rodriguez hopes his application will finally be approved.
Rodriguez already had his ticket in hand to return to El Salvador when he learned just an hour before his graduation from South St. Paul High School on June 11, 2011, that he could stay in the U.S. for the time being. He learned of Friday's ruling from KARE11's Allen Costantini.
"When you called me," gushed Rodriguez, "I was cooking for my little brother and my niece, and I dropped everything I had in my hands and I was happy."
At a White House news conference, President Obama said it would be wrong "to expel these young people, who want to staff our labs or start new businesses or defend our country simply because of the actions of their parents or because of the inaction of politicians.
"This is not amnesty. This is not immunity. This is not a path to citizenship. It is not a permanent fix," Obama said Friday. "This is a temporary stopgap measure that lets us focus our resources wisely while giving a degree of relief and hope to talented, driven, patriotic young people."
The president insisted that his administration has put more "boots on the border" to stop illegal crossings. He claimed there are fewer illegal crossings now than at any time in the last 40 years. Still, Obama called on Congress to adopt permanent immigration reform this session.
Maria Rodriguez clutched her son close and cried "Thank you, Jesus!" Maria and Milton said they had been praying for divine intervention to keep Milton in South Saint Paul.
"It is an amazing victory!" said David Cruz, 20, Minneapolis. "We have been here for 10 years fighting over and over." Cruz was brought from Mexico City at the age of 8. "This is a just cause, you know? This has been a really hard struggle and it is just amazing how this news just all of a sudden got to us. To be honest, I am still in shock."
Cruz is studying to become a "professor of poetry" at the Minneapolis Community and Technical College. Milton Rodriguez is a student at Inver Hills Community College. He is studying law enforcement and hopes to be an FBI agent someday. He also hopes to be allowed to become a citizen at some point.
Javier Morillo, president of Local 26 of the Service Employees International Union in Minneapolis, called the announcement "a huge step forward." The union has long supported immigration reform measures.
He estimates that hundreds of young people in Minnesota will be affected. "The estimates that I have seen right now are nationally about a million young people and I think there are about 500 people in Minnesota immediately affected," said Morillo.
Republican reaction was muted and divided to the President's announcement. Some criticized him for by-passing Congress on immigration reform. GOP Presidential candidate said the issue should be "solved on a long-term basis." Romney said he thinks the move will make it more difficult to reach a long-term solution.
Florida GOP Senator Marco Rubio said it "will be welcome news for many of these kids desperate for an answer, but it is a short-term answer to a long-term problem."
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