Young Immigrants Relish Changes New Policy Brought to Their Lives

Cecilio Ximeyo

Cecilio Ximeyo was looking for a job on a recent day in Soho. As he filled out an application at a shoe store, he particularly enjoyed answering one question.

“Are you legally eligible to work in the United States?” he read the question on the application out loud and smiled. “Yes, I am.”

Ximeyo, 25, entered the country illegally from Mexico 12 years ago. He came forward and was granted deferred action in April. Now he can work legally without fear of deportation for two years. With work permit in hand this was the first time he was applying for a job and answering a question he once dreaded. 

"I feel happy because now I don’t leave it blank,” he said.

Ximeyo is completing an Associate Degree at the Borough of Manhattan Community College this summer. Being able to apply for any job, he said, makes him feel confident that he has a future in the U.S.

“My plan right now is to look for a job and work, get a part time or a full-time job and then make some money and save some money for my next two years in college,” he said.

Ximeyo is one of 365,237 young immigrants who got approved for deferred action so far because they satisfied the criteria. They were younger than 31 when the program was announced last June; they came to the U.S. before they turned 16; have been here for more than five years; have a high school diploma, GED, or are currently in school; and haven’t been convicted of a serious crime. 

But not everyone thinks hundreds of thousands of people who entered the country illegally should avoid deportation. Steven Camarota, research director at the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors limited immigration, said only Congress has the authority to make that decision.

“It’s highly problematic the President can announce in advance that he’s not going to enforce the law on whole categories of people,” he said.

Camarota is not alone. Ten Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents filed a lawsuit in Texas arguing deferred action for childhood arrivals, also known as DACA, violates federal law. A decision is expected in the coming weeks.

The House also voted last week to end the program. The action is largely symbolic as the Democratic-controlled Senate and the President strongly oppose the amendment that was passed. It is, though, a reminder of how divisive the issue of immigration reform continues to be.

Meanwhile, some young immigrants approved for deferred action, like 21-year-old Yelky Pérez, are seeing their worlds opening. Two weeks ago she arrived to John F. Kennedy International Airport six hours early for her flight. She checked her bags and went through security. 

“When I was walking down that huge aisle on JFK, just tears started coming down,” Pérez said. “I was just like, I can’t believe this. It’s happening.”

It was the first time she’d been on a plane since she was brought to the country illegally eight years ago from the Dominican Republic. Getting to San Francisco was on Perez’s wish list. 

“The whole experience was just awesome, amazing,” she said, laughing.

Besides making it to California, Pérez is learning to drive. After graduating with high honors from Baruch College last May, she’s starting to look for jobs in the nonprofit sector. And she wants to continue her graduate studies and perhaps go to law school.

“DACA has changed my life in so many different ways,” she said. “I feel like I can finally at least plan my future.”

Deferred action is a temporary two-year relief, which is renewable, but it doesn’t lead to a green card or citizenship. The bipartisan immigration bill now on the Senate floor includes an expedited five-year pathway to citizenship for Yelky Pérez, Cecilio Ximeyo and other young immigrants like them. They’ll be watching this summer to see whether it gets passed.