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National Policy, Local Impact: President Obama's Executive Action On Immigration

After Mr. Obama's announcement of executive action, the face of immigration could become far more complex.
Gerson Galang via Flickr

With President Barack Obama’s announcement of an executive order on immigration receding in the rear view mirror, it’s worth asking what his action will mean for the Tallahassee community.  The impact could be far broader than one might imagine.

Think of an illegal immigrant.  For many, the image that comes to mind is someone with brown skin—someone from a Latin American country.  Too often, the rhetorical clamor surrounding illegal immigration in the U.S. reduces it to a problem along America’s southern border.  But U.S. immigration is far more varied.  With Mr. Obama’s newly introduced policy to expand a program of deferred action for parents of citizens, the face of immigration is likely to become many faces, as people from different places and walks of life come forward.

“We would be extremely—we as a family—extremely relieved,” Eda says.  She didn't feel comfortable sharing her last name.

Eda is from Albania, and she and her husband have been living in the U.S. for over a decade.   A few years ago, the Labor Department approved their visa renewal but Immigration didn’t.  They have twins—two boys—and Eda says they love to play soccer.  The boys were born here, and they’ve never known another home. 

Aside from their papers, Eda’s family is just like many others in the Tallahassee area.  But Eda says those papers do make a huge difference.

“Issues like the driver’s licenses, this whole situation, financial loans, I need to emphasize that,” Eda says.  “It puts a lot of pressure on a relationship, as well, I’d say.  So, yes, it’s a big relief.”

As Eda is speaking, this idea of relief keeps coming up.  She says being able to work and study without worrying about deportation is a huge weight off her shoulders.  And it’s not like she’s got nothing to offer.

“I would like to study paralegal,” Eda says. “I’m very fluent in Italian, German, of course, Albanian is my mother language, and I think I’ve got a handle of English, so I’m thinking about doing translations hopefully in the future.” 

“Being an interpreter has always been my dream, and I’ve never been able to do that—I mean, under the circumstances—for the past few years.”

Elizabeth Ricci is a Tallahassee immigration lawyer handling Eda’s case, and she thinks there are many people just like Eda who will benefit from Mr. Obama’s executive action.   

“You may not realize when you got to restaurants or hotels or schools a lot of the people there are living in the shadows,” Ricci says. “They don’t have a work authorization or a driver license.  We’re going to see hundreds if not a few thousand families locally affected and about four and half million families nationwide.”

Probably the thing Eda is most excited about is the prospect of visiting Albania.  She explains that even though her family’s whole life is here, if they leave, they won’t be allowed to return.

“I haven’t seen my parents, my sisters, in twelve years.  My husband, it is the same story with him, he’s an only son and their—his parents—haven’t seen the grandchildren,” Eda says.  “I’m getting emotional, but that’s the reality.  I mean every Christmas, every Thanksgiving, every birthday party we have, we get nostalgic.”

Eda hopes sometime in the next two years she and her family will be able to get the authorization to travel abroad.  While she and Ricci know permanent residency, much less citizenship, is still long way off, they’re very encouraged by this first step.

Nick Evans came to Tallahassee to pursue a masters in communications at Florida State University. He graduated in 2014, but not before picking up an internship at WFSU. While he worked on his degree Nick moved from intern, to part-timer, to full-time reporter. Before moving to Tallahassee, Nick lived in and around the San Francisco Bay Area for 15 years. He listens to far too many podcasts and is a die-hard 49ers football fan. When Nick’s not at work he likes to cook, play music and read.