Students Find New Purpose Through Deferred Action

By Elizabeth Hsing-Huei Chou, EGP Staff Writer

When President Obama’s deferred action policy was announced this summer, seemingly out of the blue, many people’s plans changed.

Jose Rojas, 20, thought he would be stuck pursuing electrician and general contractor certificates, a practical option suggested to him by a high school counselor. The deferred action announcement, though, gave Rojas permission to start plotting a path toward medical school.

Despite the characterization of undocumented students as “dreamers,” many like Rojas have actually had to aim their sights lower by choosing more realistic goals or attending more affordable schools.

On the eve of deferred action going into effect, members of Students for Equal Rights, a support group for undocumented East Los Angeles College students (pictured above), were advised to take a slow and careful approach to the application process. (EGP photo by Elizabeth Hsing-Huei Chou)

But on Wednesday, the floodgates opened. Eligible undocumented students clamored to workshops and clinics put on by immigration activists groups. Students eagerly gathered up the funds and documents needed to begin the application process to qualify for deferred action. Not only could the policy prevent the government from deporting them, it could solve two central obstacles faced by many “dream act” students: lack of income and their inability to work legally. The policy could allow the students to obtain a social security number and work permit.

According to the Montebello Unified School District’s Assistant Superintendent Michael Cobarrubias, the district has already received requests for enrollment verifications. “We’ll completely cooperate and provide students with information that they need,” he said.

See related stories:
Deferred Action Applicants Begin Process in Hopes of Avoiding Deportation
Workshops to Inform Immigrant Youth On ‘Deferred Action’ Process

If their applications are approved by USCIC, aspiring nurses, doctors, and journalists could potentially apply for internships and compete for jobs in their chosen fields. Instead of settling for a “short term career, I can now get a real job,” said Rojas.

The opportunity to apply for a work permit is the biggest draw for Angel Silva, a Glendale Community College student. Being able to work and “actually have a steady flow of income” will make paying for classes and textbooks “a little easier,” he said.

Some students could also begin fast-tracking their schooling. Ernesto Cabrera graduated at the top of his Bell Gardens High School senior class, but turned down acceptance offers from UC Irvine, Riverside and Santa Barbara because he could not afford the tuition. Ineligible for state and federal financial aid, and unable to work legally, Cabrera’s funds were extremely limited. He found himself two years later at East Los Angeles College, struggling to secure a seat in Calculus and English, two classes he needs to transfer to a four-year university.

And instead of worrying about whether they will be able to pay rent the next month or have access to reliable transportation, students could look forward to focusing on their studies. And because they will be carrying around a California ID, less conspicuous than a passport, those around them, including school officials, will no longer give them strange looks and question their status, according to ELAC student Erick Huerta.

Applying for deferred action could mean the answer to their financial headaches and career conundrums, but it could backfire on the students, two years down the line when they would have to re-apply. There is no guarantee their permits would be renewed, the government would have their information, and with a presidential election around the corner, there is no telling what the political climate will be like around the subject of immigration reform. But while terrifying, the prospect is also extremely tempting and long overdue for many students.

Jane, who arrived in the United States from South Korea when she was 11 years old, said she has no reservations about applying for deferred action. “I don’t think it’s a rational sentiment, but I’m not nervous,” she said.

While a student at Schurr High School, eighteen-year-old Thania Flores was aware that being undocumented made her an outsider. With a tinge of defiance in her voice, Flores says this year will be no different than any other school year, deferred action or not. “I’m going to keep working toward straight-As,” she said. As undocumented students, “we’re already down here [below everyone else], so we have to work even harder to become the best of the best.”

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August 16, 2012  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.


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