Students hopeful after deportation rule shift

A Glendale Community College counselor who works extensively with undocumented students said he welcomes the spirit of a recent executive order freezing the deportation of some young illegal immigrants, but added that it will have limited effect on their ability to achieve legal residency and get career-track jobs.

President Obama announced on June 15 that some illegal immigrants 30 years old and younger will be permitted to apply with the federal government for a two-year deportation waiver. To be eligible, an individual must have moved to the United States before the age of 16, have lived here continuously for at least five years and have a clean criminal record.

After the waiver expires, eligible individuals will be able to apply for a second two-year reprieve. Unlike the stalled Federal Dream Act, the policy change announced by Obama does not provide a path to citizenship.

The news was greeted with enthusiasm by some immigrants and their supporters, but criticized by others for not going far enough.

Greg Perkins, who at Glendale Community College has counseled hundreds of undocumented students — known as AB 540 students — said he and others are waiting to see how Obama’s announcement shakes out.

It might protect against the immediate fear of deportation, and allow those eligible to secure temporary jobs, Perkins said. Still, the executive order does not necessarily clear a career path commensurate with their level of education.

“There are so many question marks here,” Perkins said. “The big difference is the [Federal] Dream Act would have provided students with a clear pathway to residency and eventually citizenship where they could easily pursue careers.”

During the spring semester, there were about 400 undocumented students enrolled at Glendale Community College, Perkins said. Their status often leaves them sidelined. They can’t apply for driver’s licenses. Some financial aid and scholarship opportunities are out of reach, as are certain specialized programs that require social security numbers or background checks.

AB 540 student Yazmin Moreno, 24, founded the immigration-focused student organization VOICES during her first year at Glendale Community College in 2005. She later transferred to Cal Poly Pomona, spending as many as five hours a day on the bus. Earlier this month, she became the first in her family to graduate from college, earning a degree in sociology.

“Honestly, it is a really tough and bittersweet victory for me,” Moreno said of Obama’s executive order. “I qualify. My older brother, though, is 31.”

Nevertheless, she remains hopefully about the future. She will soon start a master’s program at Cal State Los Angeles in forensic social work, and hopes one day to work as a high school counselor.

“A lot of people have complained and talked a lot of different things about Obama, his inaction on things he said he would do for our community,” said Moreno, who moved to the United States from Mexico when she was 7. “But regardless of that...I feel this is a good step.”

In October, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the California Dream Act into law, which will make undocumented, low-income students eligible for some public financial aid, including Cal-Grants, fee waivers and textbook vouchers when the change takes effect January 2013.

A Federal Dream Act, which would go several steps farther in providing a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, has failed to clear Congress.

A good next step would be to use the recent executive order to build momentum for the passing of the Federal Dream Act, Perkins said.

“The students are very encouraged by the announcement and I think they are going to continue to dream and strive toward their goals,” Perkins said. “We are not rich enough as a country that we can afford to waste all of this talent.”

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