To hear her son tell it, Beatriz Alvarez is ecstatic.
After years of worry, she no longer has to live in the shadows.
Alvarez fled her native Medellin, Colombia in 1999. There was too much drug trafficking and guerilla warfare – a relative was killed by what the family believes to be guerillas – and not enough economic opportunity.
At the time, she told U.S. immigration authorities her family was going to Florida for a Disney vacation. The immigration officials who were screening the visa application were skeptical. They asked her son, Carlos Rojas-Alvarez, then five years old, what he expected to do on the trip. Carlos had already been coached up by his mom, who had told him what to say. He excitedly started ticking off his favorite Disney rides and how excited he was to meet Donald Duck.
“I knew all the things I had to say,” said Carlos, now a 21-year-old resident of East Boston who works as a campaign coordinator for Student Immigrant Movement. “It was a matter of life or death. We wanted to live a better life.”
The family was granted temporary visas for the alleged Disney trip. Once those visas ran out after six months, the family stayed. They were now undocumented immigrants living in America.
In 2012, an executive order allowed so-called “childhood arrivals” – people like Carlos – to live without fear of being deported, acquire a work permit and apply to leave the country. Essentially, Carlos could stay if he wanted.
His mother, however, was not so lucky. She had to continue to live undocumented. She missed family funerals because she couldn’t return home.
Until last week. President Barack Obama’s executive order will change all that.
Last Thursday, Obama announced he was, in the words of Reuters, “easing the threat of deportation for millions of undocumented immigrants.” That outlet reports that his executive order will allow some 4.4 million people who are parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents and who have been in the country for five years to remain in the country temporarily, with the right to work.
Next spring, Beatriz, who currently works for a catering company, will be among the five million in the U.S. who will able to apply for a work permit and live without fear of deportation.
She can visit Colombia – she’s already planning a trip next summer.
“I am so happy,” said the 42-year-old on Monday. “I have lived in this country for 16 years working to provide my children with a better life and I finally have a chance to work legally, not live in fear of deportation.”
She qualifies under the new rules because Carlos’ brother – Michael Restrepo– was born here and is an American citizen.
“We are one step closer to realizing the life I have always wanted for Carlos and Michael and for myself,” she said.