Gilberto and Gabriela Romero dream of no longer having to hide in a country they have called home for 18 years.
They dream of being able to work or drive a car without fear of being deported. They dream of seeing their birth families back in Mexico again. They want to see their own young adult children to be able to have careers and families here.
“I wake up every day asking God that I can do my job and return safely,” said Gilberto, 51, a Mexican national who asked that his family be identified by his wife’s maiden name to protect his job.
The Romeros thought their chance had come when President Barack Obama announced last fall that he would use his executive powers to “defer” enforcement against millions of unauthorized immigrants, allowing families like the Romeros to stay here and work legally.
But now it’s their dreams that are deferred once again.
U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen of Brownsville on Feb. 16 blocked Obama’s executive actions on immigration with a temporary restraining order, saying the administration didn’t follow procedures for issuing an executive action.
The attorney general’s office of Texas has led a group of 26 states in suing the Obama administration over the executive actions. The administration is seeking a stay on the decision from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Like many congressional Republicans, U.S. Rep. Bill Flores, R-College Station, applauded the judge’s decision, saying the “rule of law has prevailed over Obama’s unconstitutional executive overreach.”
Meanwhile, a Republican-held Congress was fighting last week over whether to partially defund the Department of Homeland Security over the executive actions.
Susan Nelson, a Waco immigration attorney who is helping the Romeros, said the judge’s ruling wasn’t a surprise, but his decision to freeze the executive action by an injunction was.
“I thought that was a stretch,” she said, adding that a long line of presidents have used their discretion to prioritize enforcement of immigration laws.
Nelson said thousands of people in Waco could potentially qualify for the programs known as Deferred Action for Parents (DAPA) and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). She is encouraging those people to attend an information session Tuesday put on by Baylor Law School Immigration Clinic and Mission Waco Legal Services.
Nelson will be among the speakers at the event, which starts at 7 p.m. at the sanctuary of St. Louis Catholic Church, 2001 N. 25th St.
She said she hopes the event will keep qualified applicants from losing hope over the recent temporary injunction.
“I think it certainly is something that makes people who are already afraid to give information to the government more afraid,” she said.
Attorney Kent McKeever, who is representing Mission Waco Legal Services at the informational event, said he tries to assure clients that the government won’t use the application process as a way to track them down and deport them. But the judge’s recent action sows confusion, McKeever said.
“There’s definitely concern as they hear these mixed messages in the news,” he said. “They hear this is about to roll out and that they can begin applying for deferred action. Then there’s a judge in Texas who put a delay on it. I don’t even understand it and I’m a lawyer. I’m getting a lot of confused looks and questions.”
Gilberto Romero said he doesn’t plan to give up on applying for DAPA, which would protect the parents of American citizens and legal residents and allow them to apply for work permits. His oldest daughter is now married and recently became a legal permanent resident.
But he’s wary after having been disappointed many times over news of pending immigration reform.
“Each year that passes, I make plans and have dreams, but as time goes by, they don’t come to pass,” he said in an interview conducted mostly in Spanish. “So I only think of the next day.”
Romero came here in 1996 with his wife to join family and find work that could support their four young children. His brother had become a citizen nearly a decade before, and his father had a green card, and Romero said he thought he would eventually get legal status.
Romero said his job as a courier in Mexico City wasn’t enough to support his family, especially after the Mexican government devalued the peso. He and Gabriela saw educational opportunities in the U.S. that would allow their children to have a choice of careers.
When they moved, the youngest of the four children was 1. Now she’s preparing to graduate from University High School, and her siblings are either in college or have college degrees.
Along the way, the Romero children have become de facto Americans, Romero said.
“When I brought my children here they were little children,” Romero said. “They began to study and live here and see the U.S. as their country. They are more American than Mexican.”
While the eldest daughter has legal status, the other three children have deferred status through the original DACA executive action that Obama signed in 2012.
Romero’s son Eric, 26, said deferred status has allowed him to drive legally and to get a steady job with a beer distributor, and he is hoping to use his degree from Texas State Technical College to start an auto body shop.
Eric Romero said he can’t even imagine what it would be like to be deported to Mexico.
“I came when I was 8,” he said. “I’m proud of being Mexican — that’s my heritage, that’s who I am — but if you want me to go back there, I don’t know that country. It’s mine, but it’s not where I grew up. That’s what they don’t understand.”
Eric Romero said his parents work seven days a week, taking only Christmas and Thanksgiving as holidays. They work together as independent contractors, stocking store shelves for vendors.
They have never sought food stamps or other government assistance and paid to put his older sister through college because her status precluded a scholarship, Eric Romero said.
“Everybody will tell you their parents are the hardest-working people,” he said. “But I believe I do have some of the hardest-working parents, who have sacrificed for us their whole lives. It’s upsetting when we’re sitting there and the news comes on telling you you’re not going to get the opportunity — seeing the facial expression on your parents change — it’s not right.”
Congressman Flores, who represents Waco, states on his website that he opposes illegal immigration and amnesty, though he would support ways for those here illegally to “address their legal status.”
“In addition, we need to develop a plan to deal with children who were brought here when their parents came into the country illegally,” he states.
But Flores says Congress, not the president, is responsible for reforming immigration law.
In the meantime, the Romeros say they are stuck, unable to leave the life they have made here but constantly reminded of how suddenly it could vanish. Gilbert and Gabriela Romero said they even have to put up with vendors who cheat them out of money, because they have no legal recourse.
“We want to work,” Gabriela Romero said. “We’ve never asked for anything. . . . But we’re just barely getting by.”
Harder still is knowing that they can’t visit the family with whom they grew up. Gabriela and Gilberto choke up as they list those they haven’t seen since the 1990s: brothers and sisters who have married and now have families, parents and grandparents whose funerals they could not attend.
“One of my dreams was that I could send money to my parents,” Gilberto Romero said. “But you feel like some of your dreams have to go straight into the trash can.”
Nelson, the attorney, holds out hope that the couple can apply for green cards once their adult daughter, now a permanent resident, becomes a U.S. citizen. In the meantime, she said, DAPA would help them live a normal life out of the shadows.
Gilbert Romero said he hopes that after 18 years here, working hard and staying on the right side of the law, his family could become Americans.
“I understand the position of the government, but also I understand that this is a country of freedom and opportunity,” he said. “But that’s not shown toward people who come here. I understand we didn’t come legally. But the way we have lived, I think jail would be an easier punishment than the way we have to suffer every day.”
If you go
What: Information session on executive actions on immigration
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday
Where: St. Louis Catholic Church sanctuary, 2001 N. 25th St.
On the agenda: Baylor Law School Immigration Clinic and Mission Waco Legal Services will discuss DAPA and DACA programs for deferred action, including how to apply and what the judicial delay means.