June 18, 2013

What happens to a DREAM Act deferred?

Nearly 300,000 young adults who lived illegally in the U.S. get permission to stay under a new program.

By CHRISTINE ARMARIO/The Associated Press

MIAMI - As a child, Jorge Tume used to sit and do homework as his parents cleaned the desks and floors of a concrete company in Miami. When he was done, he'd take out the trash and help finish cleaning.

Jorge Tume
click image to enlarge

Jorge Tume works on a computer at a concrete company in Miami. Tume’s parents brought him and his younger brother to the U.S. from Peru on tourist visas when they were young.

The Associated Press

Francis Tume
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Francis Tume drives his truck in Miami, one year after President Obama announced an executive order allowing young people living in the United States illegally to stay and work.

The Associated Press

Tume's parents brought him to the United States from Peru with his younger brother when he was 12. They came on tourist visas and stayed in the country illegally when their visas expired.

After he graduated from high school, Tume had few job prospects. So he did what his parents did: Cleaned offices, washed cars and picked up odd jobs.

Now, one year after President Obama announced that young people brought to the country as children and living in the United States illegally would be allowed to stay and work if they met certain criteria, Tume's life looks decidedly different: He's behind a computer filing notices for liens at the concrete company he once helped his parents clean.

"I know every corner of this office, this building," said Tume, 21. "I used to see other people do the job that I'm doing now. And I'm sitting here now working."

Nearly 300,000 young adults previously living illegally in the United States have been granted permission to stay and work through the program, one of the most significant shifts in immigration policy in recent decades. Some 200,000 more have submitted applications. For those immigrants, the last year has been a sort of delayed coming of age: Leaning how to drive, getting a license and landing a first job that's not off the books.

"Now I feel like I'm actually a member of the community like everyone else," said Frida Ulloa, a 24-year-old student at Florida International University, who came to the United States from Peru as a teenager to see her ill father and never went back.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals allows immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children to obtain work permits for two years, which then are eligible for renewal. To qualify, they must show that they came to America before their 16th birthday, and were 30 years old or younger when the policy was announced on June 15, 2012. They must also have lived in the United States. continuously since 2007, and either be in school, have graduated from high school or served in the military. And they can't have a serious criminal record or pose a threat to public safety or national security.

With a work permit and Social Security number, they can drive in most states, open a bank account and in some states, pay in-state college tuition.

"The life that I live now is easier than it was before," said Tume, who used to take a 45-minute bus ride to get to work. Now he drives and arrives within 15 minutes.

The policy change came after years of advocacy by students and lawmakers in support of the so-called DREAM Act, which would have provided a path to citizenship for thousands of young immigrants in the country illegally. Efforts to pass it in Congress have repeatedly failed.

Lawmakers are currently debating a comprehensive immigration reform bill that would chart a 13-year road to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants in the country illegally.

The program does not lead to residency or citizenship, but it spares these immigrants from the threat of deportation. When Obama announced it last year, critics accused him of pandering to Latino voters a few months before the presidential election.

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