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Nearly Deported, Felipe Diosdado Fights To Stay In U.S.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

That political fight has practical consequences for the man we'll meet next. His name is Felipe Diosdado. He was born in Mexico. These days he lives in Chicago, Illinois, which is where we found him yesterday. And when did you come to the United States?

FELIPE DIOSDADO: I came here around 1997. I was 18 years old.

INSKEEP: How did you get here?

DIOSDADO: I paid somebody to get me here. I paid $2,000 back then.

INSKEEP: Someone smuggled him across the border to Douglas, Arizona. He went to Phoenix and caught a flight to Chicago where his cousins already lived.

So why did you come to the United States?

DIOSDADO: Because it was really, really hard in Mexico and on my family. And I'm the older brother, and I was trying to help my mom and my dad, you know, with my brothers. That's why I came here.

INSKEEP: Today, he's the father of two boys, 11 and 9, both American citizens. Now let's get real. You may already have a strong opinion of Felipe Diosdado. You might base it on your general views of immigration or of President Obama. But Diosdado is one of many immigrants whose story is a lot more complicated than the stark and polarizing debate about them. For example, we often imagine illegal immigrants in the informal economy, working low-paid jobs for cash. Diosdado says he is quite formally employed. Years ago, he worked in construction, more recently in building maintenance and now for a heating and cooling company.

DIOSDADO: I've been paying my taxes all this time. And I've been working on the community, and I'm part of the community.

INSKEEP: Even as someone who is undocumented, you've been paying federal taxes?

DIOSDADO: Yes. That's one of the things, you know, the federal government, the IRS, they give you an ID number - ID numbers especially for you to pay your taxes. That's what they give you that for.

INSKEEP: Meaning you don't have a social security number, but the IRS gives you a number that you can use to pay your taxes in the regular way?

DIOSDADO: Yes, exactly.

INSKEEP: You were living with your cousins at the beginning when you first got here. Do you have your own home now?

DIOSDADO: Yes. Yes, I do.

INSKEEP: Do you own a house?

DIOSDADO: Yes.

INSKEEP: Was that hard to buy?

DIOSDADO: Yeah, like everybody else. You know, just - you got to build credit. Like I told you with the ID number the IRS give me, that's good to build credit, to pay taxes and to get a bank account, get a credit card. You can do all that with the ID number. And it's completely legal.

INSKEEP: Remember, this was all happening before President Obama's executive action. And so was this - Diosdado nearly got deported. This year he says he applied for a driver's license. It was under an Illinois program for the undocumented. But he had a record - a past misdemeanor for driving under the influence and a past deportation order. Someone turned him in.

DIOSDADO: Then I was in custody for a month.

INSKEEP: Leaving his American son Isaac, who is now 11, wondering what would happen next.

ISAAC: I think it was the end of February, beginning of March, when they held my dad. I felt very worried they were going to deport him, deporting our whole family. But now that they gave him a year here, I feel better.

INSKEEP: A year here. Isaac's dad, Felipe, got a lawyer. He won permission to temporarily stay. His removal from the United States has been delayed for now. That year of grace runs out in 2015. Every immigration case is different, of course, but Felipe Diosdado may prove to be the kind of person who could stay longer under President Obama's executive action.

DIOSDADO: I won't be afraid anymore to be around because sometimes I feel afraid just to drive, you know, to get pulled over from the police.

INSKEEP: Do you want to be a U.S. citizen?

DIOSDADO: I wish, yeah. I hope one day I will be.

INSKEEP: As you must know very well, the subject of illegal immigration is a matter of great debate in the United States. What, if anything, would you say to Americans who might hear your story and say, well, you know, sounds like a nice guy, but he just shouldn't be here?

DIOSDADO: You know, I came here just to work, just to try to support my family. And, you know, I do everything the best that I could close to the law, that's what I've been doing. I think this country - the basis of this country is on the immigrants. That's what it is.

INSKEEP: I want to ask about something else that is said often in the political debate over this. Some opponents of a path to citizenship for people who are here without documents will say, well, people are entering the United States illegally and claiming all sorts of government benefits once they get here and living an easy life. Are you claiming any particular government benefits?

DIOSDADO: No, no. You know what? That's a lie. I don't know anybody to be undocumented and get the benefits from the government directly.

INSKEEP: If you are deported, what will your family do?

DIOSDADO: The kids always say that they don't want to let me go by myself. They want to come with me. But there's something that I have to decide because it's really, really bad over there right now. It's risky to come over - over there with the kids.

INSKEEP: That's a decision Felipe Diosdado may have to make some day. For now, he's in and out of court. When we found him yesterday, on the very day of President Obama's announcement of his executive action, Diosdado was on his way to an immigration hearing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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