Coming Out of the Shadows: Meet José Espinoza, Undocumented Worker Impacted by Delayed Reprieve

February 19, 2015


José Espinozaundocumented immigrant who had hoped to apply on Wednesday for consideration to stay in the United States under the expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that is part of President Obama’s executive order.
Oscar Hernandez

lead field organizer with United We Dream in Houston, Texas, where he has lived for more than 15 years. United We Dream is a national immigrant youth-led organization fighting for relief and fair treatment for all undocumented immigrants. In Houston, Hernandez is helping to get eligible immigrants signed up for the expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program included in President Obama’s executive order.

The Obama administration has delayed its deportation reprieve for millions of undocumented immigrants following this week’s ruling by a right-wing judge. President Obama’s executive order on immigration would apply to those brought to the U.S. illegally as children and who have lived here for at least five years, as well as those who have lived here for at least five years and are the parents of U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents. It remains on hold as the case is appealed, possibly ending up before the U.S. Supreme Court. We are joined by two immigrants on both sides of the reprieve divide: José Espinoza, an undocumented immigrant who had hoped to apply for relief when eligibility was supposed to begin on Wednesday, and Oscar Hernandez, who was granted relief in 2012 and is now a lead field organizer with United We Dream in Houston, where he has been helping to get eligible immigrants like Espinoza ready to apply.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to Oscar Hernandez and José Espinoza in Houston. Oscar, you were a recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, that Marielena was just talking about. This doesn’t affect you. But you are also a lead organizer for United We Dream in Houston. You organized for this executive order. Can you explain how you organized and what this judge’s decision means for you?

OSCAR HERNANDEZ: Yes. So, for this executive action, we took a lot of measures. This has happened since way back in 2010, when the Senate failed us and the DREAM Act didn’t pass. So we were organizing to fight for some kind of administrative relief for our community. I was lucky to benefit in 2012, to be able to apply for deferred action. And it’s because of that that I’m able to help our community. Right now we still are servicing people. We’re helping people apply for deferred action. We have legal clinics throughout the year, and making sure that our community know what’s happening.

Like the attorney said before, we were expecting this. I mean, I live in Texas. We know the reality of what the demographic is like here. So we were expecting this to happen, and we’re more than prepared to inform our communities and not be afraid, to know that this is a temporary setback, but it’s only temporary. We will be able to continue our process, and, more than anything, to know that just because we’re here undocumented does not mean that we do not have value, and it does not mean that we won’t contribute.

So, through our program, what we want to do is make sure that our community feels empowered, is properly informed, and that we’re fighting for immigrant rights. And if you can benefit from DACA, we want to be able to service the community. This is only a delay. This is not a delay for United We Dream. We will continue to do the services we do. We will continue to inform our community. And those who can benefit from the first deferred action that came out in 2012, we’ll be able to help them. And those who may benefit from the 2014 deferred action expansion and deferred action for parents of American citizens and legal permanent residents, we’ll be offering services and information on that. So, this is not going to stop us.

AMY GOODMAN: José Espinoza, I want to first of all thank you for joining us. I know you drove an hour and a half to get to this interview, and it’s your first TV interview. You’re risking a lot to come out of the shadows and say you’re an undocumented immigrant. You were planning to apply this week?


AMY GOODMAN: And talk about your own story and why this was so important to you.

JOSÉ ESPINOZA: Well, it was so important for me, because it’s just not just me, it was also my family, because for the years, for so many years, I’ve been looking for an opportunity to become legal and be in this country and able to work. And it was for my family to finally be in—just for a better life here in the United States. I’m sorry.

AMY GOODMAN: So, in your time here in the United States, when did you come to the United States? Where have you been working?

JOSÉ ESPINOZA: I came to the United States as a kid when I was 14 years old, and I started working in different places. And right now, what I’ve been doing the most for the last 12 years is I’ve been working in the oil field industry. And I’ve been doing—I’ve been working for companies known worldwide, and this is—this is something that can benefit—that has been benefiting me and my family because of this.

AMY GOODMAN: So you’ve been married for 15 years? You came here when you were 14 years old. All three of your children are U.S. citizens?

JOSÉ ESPINOZA: Yes, ma’am, they are.

AMY GOODMAN: So you were too old to apply under DACA, as Oscar Hernandez did?

JOSÉ ESPINOZA: Yes. I didn’t have the age for that. And finally, when this new law came in place, I was very excited, and I was willing to get—to move out of the shadows, to come out. And through Oscar’s help and their organization, I was—finally, I saw the chance to do that. And actually, I had everything ready, but one day before, my dream came down.

AMY GOODMAN: Oscar Hernandez, what are you telling people like José to do right now? I mean, José came to your workshops, he got everything in order. What happens now?

OSCAR HERNANDEZ: First of all, save your money. We want people to avoid fraud. We know that our community is very vulnerable, and we want to make sure that they get the services we deserve. Second of all, prepare documentation. Like I said before, this is something we expected, and we will continue to fight for immigrant rights. Deferred action was not given to us. This was something that was organized by undocumented immigrant youth in our community, and we were able to win this. And we will continue to prevail, and we will continue to fight for immigrant rights and make sure that we get the representation we deserve.

So anybody who’s out there who might potentially benefit this, who might think they benefit from this, go to our webpage. You can go to and get more information. And then you can also look up services near where you live, where they provide either free legal services or fees at a nominal fee.

If you’re preparing your documents right now, make sure you have everything in order. Look for people that you can trust in your community. But don’t be afraid. You know, we expected this to happen, and we expect to pass—we expect something to pass within the coming months or coming weeks. So, you know, right now we’re hoping that President Obama presses the Department of Justice for an appeal, to make sure that we move this as quickly as possible. But this is not the end of the road for us. We will continue to fight for immigrant rights, and we will continue to help people who may benefit from DACA and DAPA, and to help our immigrant community.

AMY GOODMAN: Oscar, it may not end just with this court decision. Texas Governor Greg Abbott says he’ll sign legislation to repeal the state’s DREAM Act if it comes before him. This is Governor Abbott.

GOV. GREG ABBOTT: The way the law is written is that students who are applying for in-state tuition under that law must be making progress toward establishing legal status. And there is absolutely no rules or regulations or determinations to see whether or not they are fulfilling the law as is written. So, at a minimum, the law has to be fixed.

AMY GOODMAN: The Texas DREAM Act offers in-state tuition rates to children of undocumented immigrants. It actually went into effect under his predecessor, Governor Perry. Oscar Hernandez, your reaction to Governor Abbott? And as we wrap up, your parents, where, Oscar, are they? And where do they stand in all of this legislation and these executive actions?

OSCAR HERNANDEZ: So it’s really good you bring that up, because the fact of the matter is that this executive action, this deferred action, it is not really a solution to the issue of undocumented immigrants here. It’s a step forward. It’s a step forward in the right direction. But, for example, my parents, who have been here all my life—they own houses, they own a business—they’re still undocumented. And based on the regulations from USCIS, they might not potentially benefit from the deferred action for parent of legal—parent of American citizens or legal permanent residents. So we know that this is not the final step for us. This is not the final step for our community.

And even when it comes to Greg Abbott’s comments, referring to the Texas in-state tuition that allows undocumented immigrants in Texas to get financial aid to go to university, we know that this is a tack—this is more playing politics with our community. And that, to me, is something I will not stand for. You know, people over politics, that’s one of the big things we tell people, that we will not let anybody play politics with our immigrant community, because that’s not—that’s not how I know this country is based on.

So, just like a battle that there might be going on right now for deferred action, there is one happening for in-state tuition, and this is something we are also involved in. If there’s any undocumented youth out there who might be graduating, who also might feel like they’re hopeless because they might think that they can’t get a job later on, they might think that they can’t go to school, we’re here to tell them that you can. We know people that have done this before. We know Texas has helped us, undocumented immigrants, apply to colleges and then get financial aid. And we will continue to fight for them, to make sure that other immigrants and other undocumented youth that are here can take advantage of these services. And we will continue to fight for parents, who might not benefit from deferred action, and our LGBTQ community, who sometime is neglected when it comes to this. So, no, there is a lot of power with undocumented immigrants, there is a lot of power for the community, and we intend to use that power.

AMY GOODMAN: José Espinoza, I want to end with you. As I said, you drove an hour and a half for this interview, and it’s your first time speaking, and you’re risking a lot. Why did you decide to do this?

JOSÉ ESPINOZA: I want to be an example for everybody like me, in a position to come out and not be afraid and use the resources that are available through organizations like United We Dream and others. Many of the—many friends I have, they are afraid to come out. They are afraid to say something. They’re afraid to show. They’re afraid or insecure, because of—they don’t have the resources. They don’t have the ways to help their families. And it’s just different. It’s just—

AMY GOODMAN: So, are you—

JOSÉ ESPINOZA: I just them to—I just want to give them an example and show them that, yes, we can do it, and there are people out there that can help us.

AMY GOODMAN: José, I want to thank you for being on with us, for your bravery. José Espinoza is an undocumented immigrant who had hoped to apply on Wednesday for consideration to stay in the United States under the expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that’s part of President Obama’s executive order. He now cannot make that application, but we’ll continue to follow your case. I also want to thank Oscar Hernandez for joining us, who is a lead field organizer for the United We Dream in Houston, Texas, where he’s lived for more than 15 years. It’s an immigrant youth-led organization fighting for relief and fair treatment for all undocumented immigrants. I also want to thank our guest in Washington, D.C., Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, record cold strikes a third of the country. Maybe a hundred cities will post record lows today. At the same time, we’re seeing explosions at oil plants, derailment of oil bomb trains, as they’re called. What does this all mean? What can we do about it? Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: "The Browning of America" by Olmeca. The video for their song was made in collaboration with Puente Vision and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

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