Doors Open for Young Oregon Immigrants; Will They Stay Open?

PORTLAND, Ore. - Juan Sancen, 18, is an undocumented immigrant from Mexico. His parents brought him to the United States when he was 12. He recently graduated from high school, second-highest in his class. However, he feared that being undocumented would prevent him from getting into college. When he heard about President Obama's decision, announced Friday, to stop deporting young, undocumented immigrants like him, he felt relieved.

"I was really surprised and happy. I want to pursue my education in this country. In fact, I just got an email from an MIT admissions officer."

Sancen says if he gets into the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he will be closer to realizing his dream of becoming a physicist.

Susan Reed, supervising attorney with the Michigan Immigration Rights Center, explains that the Obama administration will be placing young immigrants like Juan on what is called "deferred action status," which means they will have the lowest priority for deportation.

"People who have deferred action are also eligible for work authorization. Then they'll get an employment authorization document."

Reed says the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will release details this week about how to get the deferment. The policy change will affect 800,000 immigrants in Oregon and around the nation who were brought to the U.S. before they turned 16, who are younger than 30 years old and who have no criminal record.

Some Republicans accuse the President of changing the policy to get an election-year advantage. Others say the policy change will thwart efforts to pass permanent immigration reform.

Francisco Lopez, director of Causa, an Oregon immigrant-rights organization, says these young people who were brought to America as children deserve a path to citizenship.

"They are as American as apple pie, and they are very, very much part of American culture and American society."

Reed says while this is clearly a step forward for immigrants, she is only cautiously optimistic.

"If the president were to change his mind or a new president were to come into office, this program could be terminated instantly."

The new policy does not guarantee a path to citizenship, unlike the "Dream Act," which Congress has not been able to pass. Reed says she would like the next steps to be passing the "Dream Act" and comprehensive immigration reform.
Republican leaders say they will not reform immigration law until border security is tightened.

- Public News Service OR