More than two dozen immigrants streamed into the Latin American Association headquarters in Atlanta Tuesday, seeking information about the plan President Barack Obama announced last month to protect millions of people from deportation.
The turnout underscored that interest in the president’s action remains high in the Atlanta region. Hundreds of immigrants have attended other LAA information sessions in recent days. An estimated 140,000 immigrants living illegally in Georgia could be eligible for relief under the plan, according to a recent report by the Pew Research Center.
Lino Rodriguez, a local immigration attorney, fielded many questions at Tuesday’s information session, some dealing with whether traffic offenses and trips outside the U.S. would disqualify people. The immigrants who attended listened intently as their children played at the back of the conference room.
Many unanswered questions remain, said Jonathan Eoloff, the LAA’s managing director of immigration services. Some of those questions deal with a provision that will shield from deportation those who do not have legal status in the U.S. but do have children who are U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents. But what about adult children? Or stepchildren? Or adopted children?
To qualify, the immigrants must also have “continuously resided” in the U.S. since before Jan. 1 of 2010. What if they left the country briefly? Would they still qualify?
“There is a lot that is not known,” Eoloff said in an interview before Tuesday’s information session began.
Eoloff is telling some of those showing up at the LAA’s information sessions they will have to wait for the government to release more information. The government, which is planning to let people start applying for the benefit by May, is expected to provide more clarity in the coming weeks.
The LAA held its information session Tuesday just hours after U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson defended the president’s plan amid grilling from Republicans on Capitol Hill.
“The reality is that, given our limited resources, these people are not priorities for removal — it’s time we acknowledge that and encourage them to be held accountable,” Johnson told the House’s Homeland Security Committee. “This is simple commonsense.”
U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, the Republican committee chairman, blasted the president’s actions in his opening statement as the hearing began.
“Immigration reform is an emotional and divisive issue; there is no doubt about that,” he said. “But the president’s unilateral actions to bypass Congress undermine the Constitution and threaten our democracy.”