WEST VALLEY CITY -- Three sisters who faced deportation to Mexico after living in the U.S. nearly 20 years say they're relieved by President Barack Obama's decision to ease enforcement of immigration laws.
The three members of the Avelar family in the Salt Lake City area -- Barbara, Laura and Silvia -- originally had faced a Friday deadline for deportation, the same day Obama made his announcement.
Even though U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement authorities granted a rare one-year reprieve from the deportation order early this month, the sisters told KSL that they welcome Obama's decision to offer a chance for illegal immigrants to stay in the country and work.
The Friday, June 15, deportation deadline had weighed heavily on their minds as they contemplated leaving their children and spouses to comply with the order.
"June 15th to us seemed like a really bad day. June 15th is a better day now that we found out about Obama's announcement," Barbara Avelar said.
The sisters -- all Mormon -- arrived in the U.S. in 1993 on tourist visas when they were 8, 10 and 13. Silvia Avelar says they overstayed their visas but maintains that an unscrupulous lawyer never filed their parents' proper paperwork.
They continued to live in Utah, graduating from high school, getting married, starting families.
In December, immigration officials raided their homes and eventually deported their parents to Mexico.
Under the Obama administration plan, illegal immigrants will be immune from deportation if they were brought to the United States before they turned 16 and are younger than 30, have been in the country for at least five continuous years, have no criminal history, graduated from a U.S. high school or earned a GED or served in the military.
One of the Avelar sisters, 27-year-old Silvia, would clearly qualify for immunity from deportation. But Barbara, 30, and Laura, 34, may be too old to qualify, despite clean records and high school diplomas.
In any event, the family embraces Obama's announcement.
"It means a lot right now, especially with what we've been going through. It's just a little light at the end of the tunnel it seems to us right now," Barbara Avelar told KSL.
The women are unsure how the blanket executive directive will affect their case. Their attorney continues to work through the courts to reopen it.
Rep. Chris Herrod, R-Provo, criticized Obama's decision, saying immigration reform should be left to the legislative branch of government.
"I don't think it's the right solution," he said. "It rewards people who did things wrong and in many ways punishes people who do things right."