Omar Bustamante/Fusion

President Obama's landmark immigration reforms will allow up to 5 million people to come out of the shadows and apply for work permits. But while millions celebrate a historic step forward, even more will be left behind.

Undocumented immigrants with five years of residency, strong family ties and a clean criminal record will be eligible for temporary protection from deportation — the broadest deportation reprieve ever granted by a president without the approval of Congress. Still, most of the country's 11 million undocumented immigrants will continue to face the threat of deportation and workplace abuses.


Obama's power has limits. While many legal experts say the current action is defensible, Republicans claim the president is overstepping his authority, and a court challenge could eventually surface. Still, he's taking a bold stand — one that could be remembered for years, if not decades.

That's little comfort to those left in the shadows, however. Here are some of the people who likely won't qualify for relief:

Dreamers’ parents

Ramon Jose’s two children both receive deportation relief from President Obama through Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a program for young people rolled out by the president in 2012. But those ties aren't enough to earn him a work permit for himself.


Jose has taken all kinds of short-term jobs to keep his family afloat since they arrived in U.S. from the Philippines nearly a decade and a half ago. Aside from his current gig as a consultant for a printing company, he's bagged groceries, cleaned fish, worked in landscaping, and driven for a delivery service.

But the 49-year-old Maryland resident's travel visa expired long ago and he isn't eligible for a work permit. Otherwise, he would be making four times more at a funeral home or cemetery, a trade he knows from the Philippines. "They told me as soon as you get your documents, come back and the job's yours," he said of a Catholic cemetery he contacted.

"Ever since I got in this country, all I wanted was a break for people to see what I was really capable of," he said.

Under the program
Parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents are eligible for deportation relief and work permits, provided they meet residency requirements, pass a background check and pay taxes. Parents of those covered under DACA are not eligible.

Convicted criminals

Noemi Romero was working as a supermarket cashier when deputies from the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office raided the business in January 2013, searching for employees without proper work authorization. The deputies discovered she was using her mother's name and Social Security number to work and arrested her.


Romero, now 22, was eventually convicted of criminal impersonation, a felony. For that reason, she hasn't been eligible for existing deportation relief offered to young people. She imagines many other have been caught in a similar dragnet.

"We're just working, it's not like we're out there killing people," she said.

Under the program
Deportation relief will not be available to people convicted of a felony, regardless of whether the crime was violent or not. People with three or more misdemeanors will also be barred from the program.

People without strong family ties

Milton Uribe says his "whole family" has moved from Chile to the U.S. — his mother and his three siblings — and that he's lived here since 1998. Yet the 56-year-old construction worker from Eastern Maryland won't receive deportation relief under the new program, since he doesn't have a son or daughter in the country.


He could apply for permanent residency through his relatives, he said, but that would take at least a decade and isn't a sure thing. Going back to Chile isn't an option, either. "For my age, there's no work there," he said.

"I feel sad that I'm not going to be included, but I'm really happy for those that are," he said. "It's the right thing to do."

Under the program
Undocumented immigrants who have lived in the U.S. for 5 years and have children with either citizenship or permanent residency can apply for relief. Non-parents or immigrants with children in another country are not eligible.

Controversial crime

"I understand that it was my fault," Luis* says about his drunk driving arrest in 2005. "But that was about nine years ago. I think that now [I've paid] a lot of time."


The arrest will likely block the 61-year-old father of two from receiving deportation relief and a work permit under the president's immigration plan. Born in Peru, he entered the country in 2001 on a tourist visa that has since expired and now lives in Centreville, Virginia.

One of his sons is a legal permanent resident in the U.S.; if not for the arrest, Luis might be able to request a work permit based on that tie. He regrets the incident — aside from paying higher insurance premiums, he spent a night in jail and attended classes for alcohol addiction.

Luis wants formal deportation relief because it would give him the security that he won't be quickly torn from his family. Without that, he says, "You are nothing, you are nobody here."

*Luis asked that Fusion omit his last name to protect his anonymity.

Under the program

Under the relief program, driving while intoxicated will be considered a "significant misdemeanor," disqualifying people with such offenses. The designation was created for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and will apply to the new program, as well.

People who have already been deported

He says the light was changing from green to yellow, not red, when he drove through it in 2010. No matter — Marco Antonio Perez-Mejia was arrested for a traffic violation in a Cleveland suburb and deported a month later, tearing him apart from his pregnant girlfriend and four-month-old son.


Since then, Perez-Mejia has been living in his native Mexico City. He married his girlfriend, Elizabeth, two months later in Mexico, but that didn't change the basic facts of his case. Because he entered the U.S. illegally he would need to wait 10 years to be eligible to apply for legal entry.

He's dreamed up ways to reunite with his family — have Elizabeth and the kids move to Mexico or Canada and join them there — but none seem viable yet. Crossing illegally is another option he's kicked around, but that's "really dangerous" and the large number of border agents makes it much more challenging than in the 1990s, when he first entered the country.

"It's almost four years and a half right now," he said of his exile. "I'm not going to forget I have a family. I'm waiting."


Under the program
The policy changes don't apply to those who have been deported and remain outside the United States.

Recent arrivals

When Liza's* husband died of leukemia in 2008, she decided to leave the Philippines and head to the U.S. The 57-year-old widow arrived in Los Angeles two years later on a tourist visa. "I don't want to see all the memories there," she said. "That's why I tried my luck."


She found a job as caregiver for the elderly, but she doesn't have legal permission to work. Her workplace reflects an off-the-books reality: the hours are long (6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.) and the pay small ($400 a week), she said. Still, she's driven to provide for her relatives back home and save for retirement.

With a work permit, she thinks she could land a job in an assisted-living facility, which would greatly raise her earning potential. "You cannot work if you are out of status, even though you are paying taxes."

Under the program
Undocumented immigrants need to prove they've resided in the U.S. continuously for 5 years (since Jan. 1, 2010) to be eligible for a work permit.

*Liza asked that Fusion omit her last name to protect her anonymity.

Ted Hesson was formerly the immigration editor at Fusion, covering the issue from Washington, D.C. He also writes about drug laws and (occasionally) baseball. On the side: guitars, urban biking, and fiction.