WASHINGTON, D.C. — Omar Salinas Chacon was only five when he came to America. His family was forced to flee El Salvador when their modest wealth from small businesses, like a bar and textile mill, started to attract the attention of gangs.
"I was trained to spot when people were following us for too long. We had to rearrange our travels so we wouldn’t travel the route the same day," said Chacon. "It eventually led to my dad and my grandfather being kidnapped," he added.
Paying the ransom wiped out the Chacon's life's work and the threats didn't stop. Unable to gain asylum, the family of four overstayed their tourist visas and became undocumented immigrants, eventually working in the fast food industry in Kentucky.
Chacon is encouraged by President Biden's early executive orders on immigration aimed to reunite separated families, revive the asylum system and slow down deportations but he’s heard promises from politicians before and wants real reform.
"They are a good start but some of them don’t go far enough. For example, the moratorium on deportation has a line that states they can still keep going with deportations if they choose to. The termination of the child separation policy was a good start but the underlying laws that have allowed that to happen are still on the books and need to be overridden by Congress," said Chacon.
Chacon is a Dreamer, a term used to describe young undocumented immigrants brought to America by their parents. The Eastern Kentucky University graduate was able to go to school and work due in part to the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. He now works as a nonprofit government researcher.
Kentucky Republicans have blasted Biden's early efforts as undermining border security and encouraging illegal immigration.
"These radical far left immigration policies will continue to enable the humanitarian crisis at the border and place more children in peril as they are brought dangerously to the Southern border, encourage more illegal immigration and undermine the rule of law," said Rep. James Comer, (R-Ky.), at a House Oversight Committee hearing this week on family separations under the Trump administration. Comer serves as Ranking Member of the committee.
Louisville Congressman John Yarmuth, Kentucky's lone Democrat in Washington, says Republicans decry any incremental immigration reform as amnesty.
"I was working on immigration reform as part of the gang of eight in the House in 2013. At that time, a 15 year path to citizenship passed and it passed on a bipartisan basis with significant Republican support. It's a different environment right now. The Republicans have changed. They've got much more stubborn about this but they were calling 15 years amnesty. They are going to call anything amnesty because they don't have another plan," said Rep. Yarmuth.
"Unless there is comprehensive immigration reform, all of these executive orders are just a bandaid for the bigger problem that we have just not faced in this country for over 30 years," said Chacon.