Selvin Arevalo, 26, moved from Guatemala to Portland when he was 14 to be with his brother and sister, and over the years has become a respected member of Portland’s Hispanic community.

He graduated from Portland Adult Education and is now studying part time at Southern Maine Community College.

But his future in America has been uncertain because he is an illegal immigrant. He has been awaiting a judge’s ruling that could lead to his deportation.

Everything changed for Arevalo on Friday when President Obama announced that he had eased enforcement of immigration laws for people just like Arevalo.

Under the administration’s plan, illegal immigrants will be immune from deportation if they were brought to the United States before they turned 16 and are younger than 30, have been in the country for at least five continuous years, have no criminal history and have graduated from a U.S. high school or earned a GED.

“Actually, this is my only hope,” said Arevalo, who was detained for seven months in 2010 after he fled from the scene of a minor traffic accident.

He was released on bail in November 2010 after legal efforts and a series of demonstrations and rallies, but he lost his appeal for asylum.

The policy change was hailed Friday as great news by Maine groups that advocate for immigrants. It will affect a significant number of people in the state, said Ron Kreisman, executive director of the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project, which provides free and reduced-cost legal aid to immigrants.

He said the policy opens up a future to young people who came to the United States illegally when they were children and now view themselves as Americans.

“Do we want to keep these young people — who want to make it in America — in this under-class situation that was not of their making?” he said.

Many of those young people have become so American that it would be difficult for them to return to their native countries, said Shenna Bellows, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine.

“Deporting young people who have lived in the United States for their entire lives to countries they don’t even know would be cruel,” she said.

Isai Galvez, a young leader at the El Sinai Pentecostal Christian Church, a Hispanic church in Portland, said a quarter of the children in the church’s youth group are undocumented.

He said police would never give a speeding ticket to a child who is only riding in a car. In the same way, he said, the government should not deport the children of parents who came to the United States illegally.

He said Obama’s policy means that all of the children in his youth group will be able to dream about going to college if they do well in school and build lives for themselves in America.

“What Obama said he will do is huge, especially for the Hispanic community in Maine,” he said.

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:

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Note: This story has been changed to say Selvin Arevalo graduated from Portland Adult Education.