For Azura Aguilar, receiving an envelope in the mail from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services would normally evoke a feeling of terror: the fear of being deported to Mexico, which she left when she was 8 years old.
But on September 17, she ripped open her envelope with a mounting sense of joy. Inside was a notice that her application for the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was being processed by the USCIS. It was cause for celebration at the Puente office, with hugs all around.
It meant that Aguilar’s dreams may actually come true.
“I can start driving to school with no problem, getting to work. And after my major I can actually work somewhere I want to be,” says the 20-year-old.
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.
Aguilar, of course, has already been living and working in the U.S. for some time. She has two part-time jobs in addition to her coursework at community college. But now she also has the hope that, when she graduates, she can start a career in her chosen field – child psychology.
Aguilar is one of 14 young people from Coastside communities who got help preparing their applications under DACA in early September with assistance from Puente, Community Legal Services of East Palo Alto (CLSEPA) and other private attorneys. (Across the country, some 82,000 individuals did the same). Herrera was one of the first to have her package processed.
Rosa Gomez is the CLSEPA lawyer who handled their applications. She hosted two informational sessions at Puente in August along with David Pasternak, a private attorney, as well as a workshop to apply in September. She has mixed feelings about DACA, which presents such incredible opportunity to undocumented youth – but can be revoked at any time on a political whim.
“Before this, I had to tell these young people – who have lived here all their lives, have babies, who are smart – that they couldn’t work here legally,” says Gomez.
“What I dislike most is there is no path to citizenship or a Green Card from this program. It’s a memo.”
Gomez did not sugarcoat the risks of the program when explaining it to South Coast youth. President Obama used his executive powers to establish DACA, but it could be revoked if Mitt Romney takes over the White House (Romney has sidestepped questions on DACA so far). Perhaps that explains why just 7 in 100 eligible undocumented youth have applied – or 7 percent of an estimated 1.2 million eligible applicants.
Gomez predicts more South Coast youth will apply in the next round.
“I think people are really excited to see what will happen. I think people are also in desperation, in a sense,” she says.
To learn more about Puente’s efforts around DACA, contact Program Director Rita Mancera at (650) 879-1691 or firstname.lastname@example.org.