HYATTSVILLE, Md. — For 14 years, José Alberto Piña, a Mexican immigrant without legal papers, worked on the same landscaping crew at a Maryland golf course. It was outdoor work, running sprinklers, mowing and trimming. He liked it, Piña said, and his boss liked him.
But last month his boss, an American, was notified that Piña’s Social Security number was irregular. The golf club instructed him to fire Piña.
“I felt bad, so bad,” Piña said, “but so did my boss. He told me after 14 years we were like a family, and it’s difficult to be separated. He said it was not his choice.”
Now Piña, 36, plans to try to get his job back.
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He is one of millions of immigrants in the U.S. illegally who began Friday to make new plans for their lives, free of the threat of deportation, after President Obama’s national broadcast announcing that he would offer them reprieves and work permits. Piña and many others nationwide were up late celebrating.
But some expressed confusion about how they would obtain the new documents while others felt frustrated about the millions of other immigrants here illegally who were excluded. And some immigrants who came to the U.S. legally expressed a sense of betrayal, wondering if foreigners who did not follow the rules were gaining advantages they did not have.
In Miami, some Latinos said Obama had gone too far. “I, personally, am against it because I think it undermines the other immigrants who had to go through the whole process,” said Ralf Rivera, 25, a U.S. citizen born in Puerto Rico who is studying for his master’s degree in public administration at Barry University.
He said his mother and grandparents fled Fidel Castro’s government in Cuba in 1962 and spent nearly a year in Spain before they were allowed to come to the United States. “This basically says, ‘Oh, you got here illegally? Good job.’ ”
Piña, the landscaper, was among about 100 Latino immigrants who watched the president’s speech Thursday night at CASA de Maryland, an immigrant-advocacy organization in Hyattsville. When Obama finished speaking, they cheered and waved American flags.
Under the president’s new program, undocumented immigrants who are parents of U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents and have been in the United States for more than five years will receive three-year deportation deferrals and work permits. They have to submit fingerprints, pass criminal background checks and pay an application fee of $465.
Administration officials said they will begin accepting applications “no later” than May, but have given few details of how the process will work.
In Chicago, Kathy McGroarty-Torres, who is American, said she and her husband, Ines, who is from Mexico, were encouraged by the president’s speech but had many doubts about how the program would work. “We aren’t popping any Champagne yet,” she said.
McGroarty-Torres said the two met when they worked at a restaurant in Chicago where she was a server and he was the kitchen manager. They married in 2002, but his application for a green card was denied. They settled in Evanston, Ill., but have lived in fear of his deportation.
Meanwhile, Piña, in Maryland, said that with his work permit would come a reduced fear of being fired. He said he had another plan for when he got his landscaping job back: Ask for a raise.