‘I’m an American’

08.17.12

Letters From DREAMers: Young Immigrants Hope for Deferred Action

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency published documents online this week allowing young immigrants to apply for deferred action. We asked DREAMers to contribute their thoughts and hopes.

Wednesday was the day DREAMers have been waiting for. A day before, forms had gone online allowing young immigrants (“childhood arrivals”) to apply for two years of “deferred action,” i.e. deferred deportation, and on Wednesday, those applications began being processed. While not a road to citizenship, the new policy is a big step in immigrants’ rights, one made by an executive order from President Obama in June after Congress failed to pass the DREAM Act.

We asked DREAMers to write us about the process of applying for deferred action and what they hoped it would provide for them. Three people contacted us: Joel Cruz, a 24-year-old living in California, Christopher Babb, a father of two South Korean children, and Angy Rivera, a 21-year-old who lives in New York and volunteers at the New York State Youth Leadership Council, an organization that helps young undocumented immigrants. Rivera has a column on the council’s website called ”Ask Angy,” an advice column for undocumented young people.

Joel Cruz, 24, Visalia, Calif.

I am a “DREAMer.”

I guess that’s the name we’re using to describe us second-class, undocumented young Americans. I’m 24 years old. I came to the United States when I was 5 or 6 with both my parents, both undocumented as well, and we’ve always lived here in Visalia, Calif. I went to school here all my life, and until I was 16, I really didn’t give much thought to not having legal status.

As I got older, I had to just accept that I was a second-class American, and because of the ignorance of a few people in power in our government, I would not have the same opportunities as my peers. When I hear the president talk about “bringing us out of the shadows,” well he’s right—you wouldn’t suspect in a million years that I was an “illegal alien.”

It’s not really that I find the term “DREAMers” offensive, I think it just alienates us in people’s minds and makes them think we are just some foreign illegal aliens wanting some amnesty and a handout, and that’s not the case. We’re just Americans! I feel like I’ve been an American all this time. I guess the media and the politicians need a quick catch phrase to go by.

I don’t even know how to describe what good news this is to me. I can’t think of all the opportunities I will have, but a few off the top of my head are: I‘ll be able to go back to school, I’ll be able to get a better job—maybe with some benefits and maybe one that doesn’t require hard manual labor—and getting a license to drive from my state. There’s just so many things I could do. I’m really happy and excited, but at the same time, I’m not. I don’t feel anything different. I’m really glad I will be afforded all new opportunities that I couldn’t take advantage of in the past, but at the moment I’m going to meet with my attorney and get the process started.

I’m an AMERICAN, and I don’t need a piece of paper or a judge’s approval to confirm it. I am because that’s what’s in my heart!

This is my country.

Angy Rivera, 21, Queens, N.Y.

My name is Angy Rivera and I am an undocumented student from Colombia.

My mom and I came to New York escaping poverty when I was 3 years old, and I was raised here. She sold everything to be able to afford it. I became a part of the New York State Youth Leadership Council (NYSYLC) in 2009, when I first heard about the DREAM Act. At the time, I thought I was the only undocumented person.

I don’t even know how to describe what good news this is to me. I can’t think of all the opportunities I will have.

On June 15—the day Obama announced changes to America’s immigration policy—I volunteered at the NYSYLC’s legal assistance workshop. There were a lot of people waiting outside St. Mary’s Church in Manhattan, some since 6 a.m. There wasn’t enough space inside the church. There weren’t enough lawyers to see each person. A lot of people came because they thought they qualified, and it was depressing having to tell them they didn’t. Some were moms with one of their children qualifying while the other does not.

The need for relief—meaning a path to citizenship, a path to live without fear and be able to work, travel, visit family—is really great, and that has been obvious in every workshop we’ve had. They’re always overflowing.

I haven’t applied yet for deferred action. I am going to sit down with a lawyer to go over my case and the application, since this is only a one-shot deal.

Christopher Babb, 41, Hurst, TX

My wife brought her children here with her from South Korea in 1999 when they were five and seven. Actually, she flew to Canada first, and then snuck across the border in the middle of the night—very scary. She and her then husband raised them here in Texas, where they've done very well in school, participating in sports and church. My step-daughter, Jenna, is about to finish her 2nd year at Tarrant County Community College, a local community college, and my stepson, Doo Won, is a senior at L.D. Bell High School.

I met my wife in 2007—she had separated from her husband by then. I married her in 2009, then went through the ”adjustment of status” ordeal with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. We lost our case because our lawyer was, shall we say, inadequate? We didn't know what we were going to do, and I had even begun preparing for the possibility of seeing my family deported. That's when the president made the deferred action announcement. We were overjoyed because we knew that even if my wife was deported, the kids could stay. I just don't know what we would do if Obama had not issued that directive. I believe it will save the kids' future here in the U.S., but we are still not sure about my wife's future.

This past Monday we met with representatives of Proyecto Inmigranté, an immigration counseling group, to begin our application process. So far we've learned what the fees are (over $400 per child) and we're getting together all the letters of character, school transcripts, etc., that they will need.

I want both of my stepchildren to have the life I, and their mother, never had. They're both very intelligent people of excellent character. They're both deserving of having a life in this country. They've shown it through their actions.

Are you a young undocumented immigrant in the process of applying or planning to apply for deferred action? Email us at sam.schlinkert@newsweekdailybeast.com.