16 and legal: work permit changes Fernando’s life

The day that Fernando Macias-Morales received his work permit from the U.S. government’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was the day his life changed. Just ask his mother, Yanet.

“I couldn’t believe it. He was crying. I was crying,” she recalls.

Last summer, Puente undertook a major outreach effort to young people who could qualify for DACA. Puente partnered with Community Legal Services of East Palo Alto  as well as private attorney, David Pasternak, to hold information sessions in Pescadero, and help people gather and complete the complicated paperwork – for free.

Under DACA, successful program applicants (all aged 30 or younger) are guaranteed the right to remain in the U.S for two years and work.  The paperwork must be renewed every two years.

Fernando is one of 16 young people who applied for work permits under DACA this fall. So far, 10 of them have already been approved.

Yanet says Fernando knew he was taking a risk by applying to DACA, which would essentially inform immigration authorities that he had been in the U.S. for most of his life.

(Fernando was only two months old when his parents left Mexico. But his siblings are all legal residents, making his case particularly unfair.)

But the 16-year-old knew it was his only chance to live a normal life.

“In the past he used to say, ‘Whether I get an A or an F, it doesn’t matter. I’m not going to be able to go to college or get a driver’s license, or get into the profession I want,’” says Yanet. “Now he knows he’s working to get into college.”

Yessenia Herrera won’t have to bum rides from friends to get to her community college classes from now on. She got her work permit in November and will apply for her California drivers’ license before the year is through.

The question on everyone’s minds is, what happens next? Analysts credit Latinos for propelling President Barack Obama to a second-term victory in many parts of the country. President Obama promised to renew DACA work permits when they expire in 2014, but he has also committed to comprehensive immigration reform.

Yanet Macias hopes her son will never again have to feel like an outsider.

“Since Obama granted Fernando a permit, maybe he’ll give him a green card. A lot can happen in two years,” she says.

To learn more about Puente’s efforts around DACA, contact Program Director Rita Mancera at (650) 879-1691 or rmancera@mypuente.org.

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