Metro Atlanta immigrants relieved but wary at information forum

The Latin American Association of Atlanta offices are at 2750 Buford Highway Northeast. The LAA bills itself as the largest immigration legal service provide for Atlanta’s Latin American community.

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For the first time since coming to the United States 11 years ago, Sergio Chavez said he feels free.

“I’ve always been looking behind my back,” said the married father of three daughters, ages six weeks to six years. “Now I don’t have to worry so much.”

Chavez is among the up to 5 million immigrants saved from deportation by President Barack Obama’s massive overhaul of U.S. immigration policy. The Kennesaw welder joined hundreds of immigrants attending a pair of information sessions Saturday at Atlanta’s Latin American Association.

The question on most everyone’s minds: Am I eligible? Obama’s plan will effect a little more than one-third of the roughly 11 million immigrants living illegally in the U.S.

Work permits and three-year deportation deferrals will be issued to people who, like Chavez, have children who were born here, or are legal permanent residents. However, not everyone who meets that criteria will automatically qualify, said attorney Jean Sperling.

“I think it’s likely that DUI convictions, domestic violence crimes and gang-related activities will be disqualifiers,” said Sperling, among the speakers Saturday.

There’s still plenty of unknowns about the president’s plan, said Johnathan Eoloff, managing director of immigration services for the LAA.

“What if your children were born here but are now adults?” Eoloff said. “We still don’t know details like that.”

Those answers are expected in the next three to six months. In the meantime, that uncertainty could keep many people impacted by Obama’s decision to take a wait-and-see approach before “putting themselves out there,” Eoloff said.

“There’s still a lot of mistrust,” he said.

But there’s also plenty of relief felt by families like the Chavezes. Samantha Chavez said she and her daughters would’ve followed her husband to Mexico had he been deported but hoped that day would never come.

“I want to raise my family here,” Sergio Chavez said. “It’s not safe for them in Mexico. This is home.”