Nearly 103,000 young undocumented immigrants now have temporary protection from deportation under an executive order issued by President Obama in June, according to a report released last week by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
An estimated 700,000 undocumented students, including 250,000 currently enrolled in high school, are eligible for the program, referred to as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which allows young immigrants to qualify for work authorization, among other things, if they meet certain criteria.
Alfredo Galvan Ortiz, a senior at Cedar Ridge High School in Round Rock, Texas, is among the newly "DACAmented." While college was already on his radar, Ortiz says his DACA approval will make it more affordable.
"It means a whole lot to me, especially at this time in my life," he says. "I plan to go to college and college is far from free … Now that I'm approved and have a job permit, I can definitely get a job and actually pay my tuition."
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Ortiz relied on free legal clinics to help him complete what he says was a "very complicated" application process and understand how to account for summer breaks and gray areas. Applicants must prove they have lived in the United States for at least five consecutive years.
"You have to gather up all these documents to prove you've been here," he says. "Every single day can't be documented … Say I didn't go to summer camp, it's hard to prove that I was here because I didn't do anything the whole summer."
But undocumented students shouldn't be discouraged by the application process, says Ortiz, who encourages students to seek out resources in their area.
"It may be a long process, but it's actually very worthwhile," he says. "Try to look for free clinics instead of just paying a lawyer a huge bill for something that you could get for free … You already have to pay $465 for the application and so, why would you want to spend [money] on a lawyer, too?"
To find free legal services, students can go to the U.S. Department of Justice website, which lists providers by state. The Immigration Advocates Network also offers a directory of free and low-cost legal services for immigrants, where users can search by state and county.
Deferred action does not guarantee students can get a driver's license, but undocumented immigrants approved for DACA will be eligible for one in at least 18 states—including California, Texas, Florida, and Illinois, which account for more than half of the applicants.
Students approved for deferred action are not eligible for federal financial aid, but at least a dozen states allow undocumented students to qualify for in-state tuition at public colleges and universities.
Texas is one of those states, and Ortiz says he hopes to take advantage of the privileges afforded to him under deferred action. He's already completed the first step—submitting his application to the University of Texas. If he is accepted, his next challenge will be deciding on a major, he says.
"Now instead of narrowing down my options, I can open up my options," Ortiz says, adding that he's leaning toward communications. "It's just a whole lot more freedom in my future."
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