President Obama’s new executive action program defers the deportations of undocumented immigrants for three years.  And many of the 150 thousand immigrants without legal status in Massachusetts are expected to apply.  Some were at an immigrant rights celebration yesterday at the State House and I spoke with them about how the President’s executive order might affect them.

Zoila Lopez wants to—at least figuratively— be the first in line when the Obama administration begins accepting applications this spring.  On the surface she qualifies:  She’s been in this area for well over five years:

“I have my family here and I’ve been living here for 25 years. This is my country.”

The executive order keeps certain families together; parents whose children are US citizens or legal permanent residents. Lopez has seven children.

“My family, said Lopez, “is going to be so happy because they are no longer going to live anymore afraid they going to separate me from them.” 

Frank Soults with the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA) says many of the state’s estimated 150 thousand undocumented immigrants will qualify for deferred deportation.

“For some of them it will make a huge difference in their lives, especially those who’ve been here a little while,” said Soults. “They probably will be able to benefit immediately with getting work authorization and being allowed to not worry every time a police car shows up in their rear view mirror, or they happen to pass a policeman on the street. Even as they’re walking down to the grocery store.” 

But Zoila Lopez’s relationship with law enforcement was far more complicated.  She avoided police even as she was enduring beatings and abuse from her ex-boyfriend, believing they would hand her over to immigration authorities.

“I’m being afraid to call the police because without papers you can’t do anything,” said Lopez.

She says the President’s executive order means that when she faces abuse she can actually file a report with the police.  That’s just one of 150 thousands stories of lives in the shadows, said Frank Soults.

Soults continued: “Those 150,000 are from China, they’re from  Brazil, they’re from Capoe Verde, Colombia. They’re from all over the world. They’re from Ireland and Canada, just like the immigrant population of Massachusetts is very diverse and so is the undocumented population we also find to be extremely diverse.” 

Marcos, a 20 years old completing high school at El Centro del Cardinal in Dorchester, says he hopes the executive order will allow him to go to college:  The fear of being sent back to Honduras, a country with the world’s highest homicide rate, kept Marcos living underground for many years.  But Republican State Representative Shaunna O'Connell says it’s American citizens who should fear undocumented immigrants.

“The President in 2013 granted about 36,000 illegal immigrants, it was not amnesty but he did not deport them and they were convicted of crimes.  These were crimes that were serious crimes—murder, sexual assault.  So we’re going to be seeing people getting amnesty that are criminals and this is going to make our communities unsafe,” said O’Connell.

It’s unclear where the representative is getting those numbers but the President’s plan does not apply to undocumented immigrants convicted of serious crimes; a point emphasized by the President in his address. He said the Administration would focus resources on “threats to our security.”  

The Administration last year deported  nearly 450,000 undocumented immigrants---a record high , including many with no criminal record.   Those with criminal records amounted to 200,000 and included the man who allegedly beat Zoila Lopez senseless. After another beating, she said she finally called the police.

“He got deported because he almost killed me,” she explained.

But now Lopez says she no longer fears being sent back to a country where her abuser lives.