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Immigrants cheered by possible citizenship path under Biden

Immigrants cheered President Joe Biden's plan to provide a path to U.S. citizenship for about 11 million people without legal status, mixing hope with guarded optimism Wednesday amid a seismic shift in how the American government views and treats them.

The newly inaugurated president moved to reverse four years of harsh restrictions and mass deportation with a plan for sweeping legislation on citizenship. Biden also issued executive orders reversing some of former President Donald Trump's immigration policies, such as halting work on a U.S.-Mexico border wall and lifting a travel ban on people from several predominantly Muslim countries. He also ordered his Cabinet to work to keep deportation protections for hundreds of thousands of people brought to the U.S. as children.

"This sets a new narrative, moving us away from being seen as criminals and people on the public charge to opening the door for us to eventually become Americans,” said Yanira Arias, a Salvadoran immigrant with Temporary Protected Status who lives in Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory.

Immigrant worker Blanca Cedillos, center, who is a nanny, glances over at cleaning lady Graciela Uraga, as they watch the presidential inauguration from the Workers Justice Center, a center that supports immigrant workers rights, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, in the Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn in New York. Cedillos admitted to being "nervous" listening to President Joe Biden's speech, but said she was disappointed he didn't say anything about immigration reform. (AP PhotoKathy Willens)

Arias is among about 400,000 people given the designation after fleeing violence or natural disasters.

“It sets a more hopeful future for immigrants in the U.S., but it all depends on the Congress, especially the Senate,” Arias, a national campaigns manager for the immigrant advocacy group Alianza Americas, said of the citizenship effort.

Success of the legislation is far from certain in a divided Congress, where opposition is expected to be tough. The most recent immigration reform attempts on a similar scale failed — in 2007 under then-President George W. Bush and in 2013 under then-President Barack Obama.

Elvira Carvajal, right, hugs Blanca Flores, as Irma Durand, left, cries after watching the swearing-in ceremony for Joe Biden as the 46th President of the United States, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, in Homestead, Fla. Immigrants cheered President Joe Biden's plan to provide 11 million people without legal U.S. status a path to citizenship, on Wednesday mixing hope with guarded optimism amid a seismic shift in how the American government views and treats them. (AP PhotoMarta Lavandier)

Ofelia Aguilar, who watched Biden's inaugural address on TV with four other female farmworkers in agricultural Homestead, Florida, said she nevertheless felt positive about prospects for immigration reform.

“I am hopeful that he'll give us legal status,” said Aguilar, who was pregnant and alone when she came to the U.S. from Mexico in 1993. She worked in the fields for years before starting her own business farming jicama root.

“Hope has opened!” Aguilar cried out after Biden was sworn in. “So many people have suffered.”

Ofelia Aguilar raises her hand as she watches the swearing-in ceremony for Joe Biden as the 46th President of the United States, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021 in Homestead, Fla. Immigrants cheered President Joe Biden's plan to provide 11 million people without legal U.S. status a path to citizenship, on Wednesday mixing hope with guarded optimism amid a seismic shift in how the American government views and treats them. (AP PhotoMarta Lavandier)

Some of the farmworkers at the backyard gathering about 35 miles (56 kilometers) south of Miami said they were disappointed Biden didn't mention immigration reforms in his speech.

“I only have hope in God, not in presidents,” said Sofía Hernández, an agricultural worker who has lived in the U.S. without legal status since 1989. “So many have said they are going to do things, and I don't see any results."

Hernandez came from Mexico, seeking economic opportunity. Her three children were born in the U.S. and she regularly sent money to her family back home before her parents died.

Irma Durand, right, and Ofelia Aguilar hug as they watch the swearing-in ceremony for Joe Biden as the new President of the United States, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, in Homestead, Fla. Immigrants cheered President Joe Biden's plan to provide 11 million people without legal U.S. status a path to citizenship, on Wednesday mixing hope with guarded optimism amid a seismic shift in how the American government views and treats them. (AP PhotoMarta Lavandier)

“My dream is to go and see my family and come back to stay with my children,” Hernandez said.

In New York, Blanca Cedillos said she also was disappointed Biden did not mention immigration during the speech she watched with a half-dozen other masked immigrants at the Workers Justice Project.

“I was hoping he would say something,” said Cedillos, a Salvadoran who lost her job as a nanny during the coronavirus pandemic and now gets by with a few housecleaning jobs and a weekly food box from the nonprofit that offers services to immigrants.

Gustavo Ajche, 38, who has three jobs, gestures after watching Joe Biden's presidential inauguration on TV with other immigrants at the offices of the Workers Justice Center, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, in the Sunset Park neighborhood in New York. Atche has been in the United States since 2004. His wife is in the United States but his children are back in Guatemala while he and his wife pay for their college education there. Atche works construction, delivers food for food delivery applications, and works helping his community at a food pantry in Brooklyn. (AP PhotoKathy Willens)

Cedillos has lived in the U.S. without authorization for 18 years and hopes to eventually visit her four children in Central America, then return legally to the U.S.

“I have told them that that trip may happen now. Hopefully, if this new president gives me the opportunity,” she said.

Guatemalan construction worker Gustavo Ajché, who came to the U.S. in 2004, watched the Spanish language broadcast with Cedillos.

Graciela Uraga, left, a cleaning lady, and Blanca Cedillos, a nanny, react as they watch Joe Biden's presidential inauguration from the Workers Justice Center, an immigrants rights center, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, in the Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn in New York. Cedillos admitted to being "nervous" when the speech started, but after the speech, said she was disappointed Biden didn't mention immigration reform. (AP PhotoKathy Willens)

“I don’t want to get too excited because I might get frustrated afterward, like has happened in the past,” Ajché said. “I have been here many years, I have paid my taxes, I am hoping something will be done.”

In Phoenix, Tony Valdovinos, a local campaign consultant who was brought to the U.S. from Mexico as a small child, said he isn't celebrating yet.

He's among those who have benefited from the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which protects immigrants brought to the U.S. as children from deportation.

Blanca Cedillos, left, who is a nanny, listens to President Joe Biden's inaugural speech with other immigrant workers at the Workers Justice Center, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, in the Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn in New York. Cedillos admitted she was "nervous" when she started watching the speech, but, like other immigrants who watched, was disappointed Biden didn't mention anything about immigration reform. (AP PhotoKathy Willens)

“It's hard to put your heart into it when these things have failed in the past,” Valdovinos said. “We've been beaten down so much.”

Maria Rodriguez, executive director of the Florida Immigration Coalition in Miami, said she feels much the same way.

“I’m so happy and relieved, but we are still afraid of getting our hearts broken again,” she said. “We’ve been through this so many times, but we really need to bring through a solution that goes forward.”

Graciela Uraga, a cleaning lady, watches President Joe Biden's inauguration with other immigrants at the Workers Justice Center, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, in the Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn in New York. (AP PhotoKathy Willens)

Los Angeles janitor Anabella Aguirre wants that solution not only for herself, but for her two daughters, both DACA recipients now starting their careers.

“Like thousands of mothers and fathers, I want for my daughters to have something better in this country,” Aguirre said. "We hope that today, this dawn, brings hope.”

A group of immigrants gather at the Workers Justice Center as they watch Joe Biden's presidential inauguration, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, in the Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn in New York. Most were disappointed Biden didn't mention immigration reform in his inaugural speech. (AP PhotoKathy Willens)

A group of immigrants watch President Joe Biden's inauguration from the Workers Justice Center, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, in the Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn in New York. From left are Josefina Tapia, who is unemployed but used to be a housekeeper, Vicente Salvador, 74, Graciela Uraga, a cleaning lady, and Blanca Cedillos, who admitted she was "nervous" and disappointed when Biden didn't mention immigration reform in his speech. (AP PhotoKathy Willens)

Blanca Cedillos, left, a nanny, and Graciela Uraga, right, a cleaning lady, applaud as they watch the inauguration of President Joe Biden on TV with other immigrants at the Workers Justice Center, a Brooklyn non-rpofit that helps immigrants, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, in the Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn in New York. (AP PhotoKathy Willens)