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