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Obama's Immigration Policy Leaves Many Questions


Last week, immigrants across the country celebrated when President Obama lifted the threat of deportation for about 800,000 illegal immigrants. The policy applies to foreign nationals who came to the U.S. illegally as children. In Alabama, home to the nation's toughest illegal immigration law, the new policy opens doors for many young people but it does not answer all the questions. Tanya Ott reports from member station WBHM in Birmingham.

TANYA OTT, BYLINE: A mile down a dirt road dotted with mobile homes, dogs chained in the front yard, there's a small, immaculately kept yellow house - inside, a family whose life has been turned upside down in the last week. The window AC unit drones, the lights are dimmed - an effort to keep the house cool in the Alabama summer. But you can't help thinking it's also an effort to keep a low profile. After all, the Doroteo family has been hiding for the 13 years since they slipped across the border from Mexico. Carlos was 11 at the time.

CARLOS DOROTEO: We pay somebody for bring us in here, you know, across the river. We feel afraid. Anything go wrong, you know, we could of drowned and, you know, being so young, you don't know how to swim.

OTT: Doroteo also didn't know he'd be illegal in the U.S. Still, he thrived in Alabama. He learned English and was a high school football star. But when he graduated, it all came to a halt.

DOROTEO: Since I don't have a Social Security card or ID, you know, stuff like that, I've been doing construction work, you know, since I graduated.

OTT: Last week, a cop pulled Doroteo over for a traffic violation. When he couldn't show a driver's license, Doroteo was arrested. He was terrified he'd be deported.

DOROTEO: Most of my life I been in here, you know. So I guess it would have been real bad for me 'cause I wouldn't know what to do, you know, or where to stay once I get over there.

OTT: He was released with a warning after four days. Then President Obama made the announcement. The new immigration policy applies to people who are under 30 years old, arrived in the U.S. before they turned 16 and have lived here at least five years. They must have no criminal record and either be in school, a high school graduate or serving in the military.

MARY BAUER: We think it's a very important step.

OTT: But Mary Bauer of the Southern Poverty Law Center says it's a small step, because it doesn't provide a permanent solution.

BAUER: And living here in Alabama, it doesn't provide a full measure of protection from our anti-immigrant law. So people are still theoretically subject to being arrested or detained under Alabama's law.

OTT: State Senator Scott Beason sponsored the law. He worries about how the new federal policy will affect Alabama's law. He also believes the new federal policy will be hard to enforce.

STATE SENATOR SCOTT BEASON: How do you decide were they really brought here when they were six or were they 17? How old are they really? I really think the purpose is to begin to have amnesty across the board.

OTT: Full amnesty would be fine with Carlos Doroteo. But he's not dreaming that big right now. He just wants a job that's not as back-breaking as construction so he can build a better life for himself and his family. For NPR News, I'm Tanya Ott in Birmingham, Alabama. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tanya Ott