Hundreds of students from The University of Texas-Pan American found hope Friday, June 15 when President Barack Obama announced that his administration would defer action on deportation of certain undocumented immigrants, namely, those who were brought here as children and have been productive members of society.
UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen said he was elated by what he called major news. He added that while Obama's executive order does not guarantee citizenship, it is a step in the right direction.
"America is finally doing the right thing and we're really thrilled that they are," Nelsen said.
There are currently 599 students who would benefit from the passing of the DREAM Act, an immigration reform law that would have provided a path to citizenship but was stalled by Congress last year, Nelsen said.
Nelsen, a staunch supporter of the DREAM Act who has written op-ed pieces in national publications including Latino magazine in favor of the legislation, said the executive order allows these students to have a future past college, but the DREAM Act must be passed to ensure those bright futures.
"We're not through; we have to do the right thing," he said "These are students who we have had with us for years and years. We've invested in them, we've educated and graduated them from high school, so why wouldn't it be the right thing to give them citizenship? It is the right thing to do."
Obama gave a televised address Friday afternoon announcing a shift in his administration's policy that would halt deportation of young people who were brought to the United States as children and are no threat to national security and allow for them to receive work visas.
In a memorandum U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano issued to key immigration officials, the government would use prosecutorial discretion for people who:
• came to the United States under the age of 16;
• have continuously lived in the U.S. for at least five years and are still living here;
• are currently in school, graduated from high school or earned a GED, or is an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States;
• have not been convicted of a felony, a significant misdemeanor or multiple misdemeanors or poses a threat to national security or public safety; and
• are not above the age of 30.
The president also said that those people who meet certain criteria could also be eligible for work visas that would have to be renewed every two years.
About a dozen UTPA students crowded in front of a TV screen at the Student Union to hear Obama's speech. Students cheered and hugged each other as the president outlined the policy in his televised address.
For senior Mayeli Sabala, Obama's executive order will allow her to apply for a work permit so she can find a job and help her parents who have been paying for her school.
"I will finally be able to give back to them," said Sabala, who plans to graduate in May 2013 with a bachelor's degree in political science and pursue a master's degree in public administration.
Sabala, who was born in Mexico and adopted by American citizens when she was a small child, said the policy shift will help thousands of people like her who consider themselves Americans and want to stay in the only country they know.
"I have a right to be here," she said. "I've been here since kindergarten. Things happened that were out of my hands."
Other Broncs echoed Sabala's sentiments, though several said they were still apprehensive to talk about their stories out of fear they might face deportation or cause their loved ones to be deported.