Deportation looms for undocumented immigrants despite Obama pledge

  • Josefina Velasquez, left, serves dinner to her two children, Maria Cruz, 12, and Juan Cruz, 14, in their Cotati apartment on Thursday, August 22, 2013. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

In a small immigration cell somewhere in San Francisco — with nothing but a window, door, toilet and three other women also bound for the border — Josefina Velasquez sank deep into despair.

Her cellmates offered no solace. They echoed what immigration officials told Velasquez just before putting her in the cell.

"We're all headed to Arizona," they said. After that, there would be a final trip across the Mexican border. "There's nothing you can do about it."

Velasquez, 36, whose belief in God was rooted in tradition rather than spiritual faith, thought of her son, her daughter and her husband back in Sonoma County and fell to her knees.

"God, if you really exist, please let me stay, let me stay here with my family," she pleaded. "He got me out of that room."

Velasquez was released on bail. Two years later, she is facing deportation. And like hundreds of thousands of other undocumented immigrants facing removal from the United States, she'll likely need another miracle.

That's because President Barack Obama's promise to rein in the deportation of people without serious criminal records largely has been a failure, according to immigration attorneys and advocates.

In June 2011, the Obama administration announced new ground rules for applying "prosecutorial discretion," or PD for short. The policy would focus immigration enforcement on serious criminals and high-priority immigration violations while allowing vast numbers of families facing deportation to stay in the country.

That November, immigration officials went about the arduous task of reviewing some 300,000 pending deportation cases, applying the new guidelines. Obama critics called the move a pre-election ploy to woo back Latino voters who had become disillusioned with record numbers of deportations under Obama.

In its first year, only 2 percent of the deportation cases reviewed under the policy were halted and closed, according to the New York Times. Since then, the PD approval rate has risen across the country, but not by much.

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