Monday, November 18, 2013

New Obama directive to halt deportations of relatives of veterans could help Tarpon Springs man

Posted By on Mon, Nov 18, 2013 at 5:25 PM

Luis Varela
  • Luis Varela
Last Friday President Obama issued a directive that will allow some relatives of U.S. service members living in the country illegally to stay. The move is the latest by the president to relax some immigration rules in lieu of a comprehensive bill on immigration coming out of Congress.

The order gives U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officials the power to “parole in place” immigrant spouses, children and parents of current U.S. service members, reservists and veterans. The change means that those immigrants can apply to live legally in the United States.

Although the policy change didn't make that many headlines, it's certainly a big deal to those people who are directly affected, such as Tarpon Springs resident Luis F. Varela. Varela is a native-born Colombian who came to the U.S. with his family in 1962 when he was 10 years old. A permanent legal resident who served in Vietnam in the 1970s, Varela has been fighting a deportation order for the past five years. But the president's directive now gives him hope that his legal battles may be over, as he says his brother served in the Army for 30 years, qualifying him for inclusion in the proposal.

The 61-year-old Varela told CL on Monday that his troubles surfaced around 2007 when he tried to obtain a passport from the Colombian Consulate to travel to Cancun. The Colombian government told him it had no record of his existence, however, and couldn't issue him a passport.

So he says that he "took the initiative" and went directly to immigration officials in the U.S. to obtain a passport. He got that passport and went to Cancun. But that action apparently alerted officials with Immigration and Customs (ICE), and in June of 2008 he was detained by ICE officials while leaving a Home Depot. He ultimately was whisked away to the Krome North Service Processing Center in Miami, where he was held for two months before posting bond.

Varela says he's fought the deportation order over the past five years, with the removal orders still in place. But with the new policy change he says that he intends to travel to the ICE office in Tampa this week now "to see what more we have to do."

President Obama has made a series of executive orders regarding immigration over the past couple of years. None has been bigger than his announcement in the middle of 2012 on deferred action, the policy that prohibits the Department of Homeland Security to no longer initiate the deportation of illegal immigrants who came to the United States before age 16, have lived here for at least five years, and are in school, are high school graduates or are military veterans in good standing. Those immigrants must also be not more than 30 and have clean criminal records.

Such actions have alienated GOP members of Congress. The Daily Caller reports that a group of Republican Senate Judiciary Committee members wrote a letter to Jeh Johnson — Obama's choice to replace Janet Napolitano as head of Homeland Security — about such "lawless policies."

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