Almost two years ago a high school student from the Magic Valley told Boise Weekly: "Inside, I want to say I am American. But in reality, I'm not American because of my legal status in the United States."
BW chose not to name him in the article because he was a minor and brought to the United States illegally from Mexico when he was in the second grade. Now that young man, Aaron Ramirez, is almost 19, a freshman at the College of Southern Idaho, and will most likely be authorized to work in the United States in the next few months.
Ramirez is among the first of a group of young immigrants to apply for Deferred Action, an immigration procedure that the Obama administration expanded in a June 15 memo to include "childhood arrivals." It will provide temporary, two-year protection from deportation to some immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. The application form was published Aug. 15 and Ramirez applied five days later.
"It was straightforward," Ramirez said. "I looked at all the precautions. It seems pretty safe."
Ramirez's parents were excited for him, but made him show his application to an immigration attorney before he submitted it. Ramirez had done such a thorough job that the lawyer did not even charge him to review the forms.
Deferred Action applies to undocumented immigrants who:
• Are between 15 and 30 years old.
• Came to the United States before their 16th birthday.
• Lived in the country for at least the last five years.
• Are in school or finished high school here.
• Have not committed significant crimes.
Immigrant communities across the country greeted the program with great enthusiasm. Tens of thousands of people attended application workshops in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles on the day the application came out. Hundreds of people have attended information sessions across Idaho in the last few weeks.
More than 100 people filed into an application-processing workshop Sept. 7 at the Boise Public Library, sponsored by the Boise-based Centro de Comunidad y Justicia.
Roberto Nunez, 20, helped make hundreds of photocopies and also began his own application.
"I've got 20 years here, living a certain life," Nunez said. "You have a name, but you can't really put it up to anything. Your name doesn't count."
Nunez and many of the other young immigrants present echoed the language of the Dream Act, a proposal that would give them permanent status but that has not passed Congress, saying that now they can at least start dreaming.
Nunez, who was brought to the United States before his first birthday, wants to become an architect.
At the Sept. 7 workshop, about 30 people were able to complete their applications. Others had to gather more evidence, proving their continuous presence in the United States and their clean record. Some had to speak with attorneys to prepare more detailed applications, excusing smoking infractions or minor crimes.
Catholic Charities of Idaho and the Community Council of Idaho are also conducting public workshops to help immigrant youth fill out Deferred Action paperwork. According to an estimate by the Immigration Policy Center, some 3,230 immigrants in Idaho are eligible for Deferred Action now and another 1,870 will be eligible once they turn 15. The Immigration Policy Center estimated that 1.4 million people could qualify for Deferred Action across the country.
Patrick Taurel, an attorney with Andrade Legal in Boise, has been conducting information sessions and is working with the Centro de Comunidad y Justicia on Deferred Action workshops. He said immigration attorneys are always looking for ways to get undocumented clients some kind of lawful status. In the past, he often ran into a roadblock and had to tell immigrant youth that there was nothing to be done.
"Now things have changed," Taurel said. "Now I can provide them at least some way of coming out of the shadows and provide some relief of that threat of deportation."
Deferred Action mended some fences between President Barack Obama and immigration-minded voters but was also viewed as political pandering in the run-up to the November election.
"This made a difference," said Sam Byrd, director of the Centro de Comunidad y Justicia. "For a lot of Latinos who are eligible to vote, this Deferred Action is certainly something that is going to get some long play ... but Obama is not believable to a lot of Latinos. He's got a problem."
While Deferred Action will provide two-year, renewable work permits to young people like Ramirez, it will not convey permanent residency or provide a path to citizenship. The Dream Act would grant visas to immigrant youth who attend college or join the military. It passed the House in December 2010 but failed to even garner a Senate vote. Many Latinos have been disappointed in Obama's failures on immigration reform but Byrd pointed out that Latinos are not single-issue voters--Latinos were also hard hit by the recession and the loss of jobs.
Obama continues to support the Dream Act. Activist Benita Veliz spoke onstage at the Democratic National Convention, supporting Deferred Action and calling for Obama's re-election.
For Ramirez, the Dream Act remains a singular hope for permanent status.
"That's like the main goal," Ramirez said. "This is basically just relief."
If granted Deferred Action, Ramirez will be able to work legally and obtain an Idaho driver's license. Although he is attending college as an Idaho resident already, he will remain ineligible for federal or state financial aid under Deferred Action.
To that end, the Centro de Comunidad y Justicia is putting half of the proceeds from its Deferred Action workshops into a new scholarship fund for Idaho dreamers.
"It's been popular," said Byrd. "The whole idea is for them to continue their education."
Ramirez is doing just that. He took college classes while in high school, taught himself several computer languages and is now studying computer science in Twin Falls. In a few years, anticipating passage of the Dream Act, he plans to transfer to a four-year university and complete his degree.
"The Dream Act requires a four-year college or university," Ramirez said.
Nunez also hopes to leverage his temporary status into an education. And though he could apply for permission to visit Mexico for the first time in his life if granted Deferred Action, he is not interested.
"I came to this side," Nunez said. "I'm going to stay and fight here."