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A Dream Deferred

Nearly 2 million undocumented youth are now eligible to study and work in the United States. Many are too afraid to seize the opportunity, but others, like one 16-year-old Petaluma girl, are embracing the chance.

 

This June, the Department of Homeland Security announced a new program that allows people who came to the United States illegally as children to apply for a two-year work permit.

It’s called “deferred action for childhood arrivals” and since then, hundreds of thousands of undocumented youth have come forward, seeking a chance to legally work and attend college in their adopted country.

One of them is Jennifer,* a 16-year-old Petaluma High School student, originally from Mexico. Jennifer was only two when she was brought to the U.S. by her parents and attended McNear Elementary and Petaluma Junior High School.

Despite having excellent grades and being involved in many extra-curricular activities, college never seemed like an option for Jennifer.

Until this year.

“I always knew that even if I tried really hard, there was pretty much nothing for me after school,” Jennifer says. “Frankly, that’s why a lot of Latino kids don’t even want to try. But amazingly, I didn’t stop trying. Now I’m thankful for this opportunity because it opens so many doors that before were closed.”

Deferred action does not grant lawful status and there is no guarantee of a renewal. But after years of uncertainty, it has given immigrant youth like Jennifer a new hope and a new vigor to pursue their dreams.

It's also incredibly risky.

“Before we were unknown. But now the government has all of our information and it’s scary,” says Jennifer. “But my parents and I talked it over and it’s worth the risk. My family wouldn’t be here right now if we hadn’t taken certain risks. And I guess now is my turn to do that.”

Jennifer is bright and articulate and taking many advanced classes, including AP English, AP History, Trigonometry, Honors Chemistry and French 3. Her GPA is an impressive 4.5.

But unlike many of her peers, she’s only now allowing herself to imagine going to college.

“It’s really important for me to help my family with expenses,” says Jennifer, who occasionally helps her mom clean houses. (Her father works in construction.) “There are trips I want to take and programs I want to be involved in and I just can’t afford them right now. Getting the permit would allow me to do so many things, get a job, go to college, drive.”

Even if her temporary work permit is not renewed, the chance to pursue her dreams is worth it. It's also the only chance she has, now that the DREAM Act is stalled, legislation that would have allowed undocumented students attending college or serving in the military to regularize their status.

“Life is about taking risks,” she says. “I absolutely believe that. Even if in the end I have to return to Mexico, I don’t regret this decision.”

Are you or someone you know applying for "deferred action"? Share your story in the comments below.

* Name changed to protect anonymity of source

Richard Coshnear November 10, 2012 at 03:08 PM
Thanks, Karina. Important story.
Caroline November 10, 2012 at 03:41 PM
I certainly hope that my children who are legal citizens and born in this Country get a chance at College, I am sure if I went to Mexico illegally my children would NEVER get this opportunity!
Beth Meredith November 10, 2012 at 03:56 PM
Thanks for showing how this issue is impacting children in our town. I was impressed by her desire to learn, work hard and take risks.
Frank Simpson November 10, 2012 at 04:01 PM
This story should give everyone pause...and a chance to think. Best of luck to Jennifer...and welcome!
teri November 11, 2012 at 04:50 PM
Why don't you just rob someone its all about the risk. You DO rob me why you break MY countrys laws and steal resources and jobs. No one ever paid for my college. If your father is here illegaly working in construction he's taking my husbands job. If you people are all so bright and hard working go back and change your OWN political system. PS If China is helping us along the Mexican border why are they letting you in. Oh yeah to enslave all of us. Escape while you can little girl. This is not utopia.
Van November 12, 2012 at 04:58 AM
This work permit. Only gives us the opportunity to work and drive for two years. It does not pay for our college. We are still being charged out of state tuition in most states. 3 times as much. To me it's fair.
Van November 12, 2012 at 05:03 AM
Not to mention. There will be no way to receive financial help from the government. But it gives us a chance to work. I will be graduating soon with A nursing degree. I don't believe am taking someone's job.
Yesin November 12, 2012 at 08:37 AM
Teri,  HellO my friend. You should really check all your facts before you post silly, rude, disgusting comments on stories like these; it could really hurt someone. First of all, these are hardworking students who deserve a shot at the American dream. This opportunity does not exempt them from paying taxes, or from recieving any type of government aid. Fortunately for you and your husband, you can receive all the government aid you want even when you DO work. Congratulations for finding that out. These students receive nothing even when they work double shifts everyday; yet they still make less that your jobless husband. Secondly, Americans want the best products, and services, at the best prices. In order to do this, we must have competition. If my service is better than yours, who would a company hire? Who do you think? Now if your husband cannot plaster a piece of drywall properly and he is a contraction worker...maybe its time his positions be passed on, to someone who can. Maybe it's time he find something he's good at. Now, if your husband is already good at his Job, he should have no fear of any competition.  Please have some leeway for these students, they are most likely smarter than your Children, respect that. That's what we need to move this nation forward. 
Active Thinker November 12, 2012 at 05:43 PM
Both sides have some valid arguements. But the fact is people do come here illegally from all around the world to work and live the American dream. I would ask to understand the US history...it is filled with people wanting a better life then where they were bron in...just becuase you were born here does not give you more rights then someone else. I agree all people should pay for taxes and be documented for the resources they use...but saying taking my husbands job is short sided just as these kids are smarter then yours. attacked the problem where it lies and wanting a better solution is the answer. It's like saying people who are overweight should pay more in health care then someone who is taking care of their body.

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