Young Immigrants Relish Changes New Policy Brought to Their Lives

Friday, June 14, 2013

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.


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Comments [2]

daniel bejarano from New York, NY

Please let's not forget that many of these 365,237 individuals who have benefited from Deferred Action entered the United States "legally," i.e., visa overstays, humanitarian purposes, students, political situations, etc. And I dare say they are probably into the thousands as well. Not mentioning this makes it seem as if such a thing as DA is an utterly unfair measure. It's extremely easy to use "illegal" in the immigration discourse. It's always illegal this and illegal that. It only takes a minimal effort to name things as they should.

Jun. 14 2013 05:11 PM
MSP from New York City

Lives are definitely changing. To think that for years, these students along with parents and friends have suffered the thought of never finding relief. To think that there are thousands of people living in a free country that has been slaving them in fear and despair. No matter how controversial and how many angles you turn to look at this, these new policies are life changing for those who have prayed for such miracles. It’s sad to think that the are many among us "Americans" who decline support to these children. It is so easy to lash out with negative comments when you get to go home with a freedom chip on your shoulder. Yet, your trip home involved in one way or another some kind of interaction with those you want out of the country. These human beings have touched your lives with help, with service, with a smile and yes, possibly some bad experiences as well. But again, they’re human beings. “American” is just a title. We as Americans only realize that we’re all created equal when events such as quakes, floods, hurricanes hit our neighborhoods. But for the most part, we isolate ourselves from everyone who doesn’t carry an American seal. These human beings have lived here all of their lives, some of their lives, most of their lives. They need our support. A support that does more for all of us than it affects us. Supporting these policies improve lives that are beneficial to everyone. Congratulations Steven, Cecilio, Yelky and everyone who waited in the sidelines.

Jun. 14 2013 10:58 AM

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