Immigrants rights group huddles in Charlotte

Juan Ramos came to Charlotte from El Salvador at age 15 in 2008, entering the country illegally.

Thanks to President Barack Obama’s immigration overhaul announced Thursday, he no longer has to live in fear of deportation. The news was not so good for others in his family who don’t qualify under the new guidelines.

“I have mixed emotions,” said Ramos, 21. “I am happy for me, but my brother and my parents don’t qualify.”

His parents don’t have U.S.-born children and lack permanent resident status, he said. His brother was too old when he entered the country to qualify to stay.

Ramos was among about 50 members of United We Dream who gathered at Hampton Inn & Suites Charlotte Airport on Friday night for a three-day strategy session on their next steps in the fight for the rights of those who immigrated illegally.

United We Dream is the largest immigrant youth-led organization in the nation, with 55 affiliate organizations in 26 states. It held two other regional gatherings before the president’s speech in Houston and Washington, D.C.

Members are here from Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, Washington, Wisconsin and other states. Ramos co-founded the Charlotte affiliate, Dream Organizing Network, in April.

The young adults gathered this weekend to discuss issues such as promoting driver’s licenses, in-state tuition for immigrants living here illegally, and how to persuade police to not cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez, 28, who lives in Tampa, Fla., and is deputy managing director of United We Dream.

Immigrants who are in the country illegally are denied North Carolina driver’s licenses because a valid Social Security number is required.

Obama’s immigration overhaul “is a bittersweet moment,” said Sousa-Rodriguez, who was born in Brazil. He said 4.9 million will have freedom from fear of deportation.

“They’re finally going to be able to get work permits, a driver’s license,” Sousa-Rodriguez said. “But this is not complete yet. There are more than 6 million people who won’t have that same joy, and we won’t stop until every one of them can get that card in the mail allowing them to live legally in the U.S.”

Maria Palacios, 19, traveled from Tampa, Fla., to the Charlotte meeting. It started with attendees watching reruns of the president’s Thursday night announcement and his related remarks on Friday at Del Sol High School in Las Vegas.

“I’m here not only for my friends and family but all of those who might still be left out,” Palacios said. She is in the country under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, but she has extended family members and lots of friends not allowed to be here.

For them and millions of others, she said, “I will still continue to fight.”