Judith Huerta danced when she learned Friday that the Obama administration would stop deporting and begin granting work permits to younger illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children.
Huerta, 21, of Oklahoma City, is one those children. Her family moved from Mexico when she was 2, and the United States is the only country she's ever called home.
“It's definitely brought hope to a lot of us here,” said Huerta, her voice cracking with emotion. “I was dancing earlier, and crying. Most people don't understand what this means for us — it means we have a better shot at a better future.”
The policy change was announced Friday by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, and will affect as many as 800,000 immigrants nationally who have lived in fear of deportation. It also bypasses Congress and partially achieves goals of the DREAM Act, a long-sought plan to establish a path toward citizenship for young people who came to the United State illegally.
Members of Oklahoma's congressional delegation criticized the decision, saying it bypassed the legislative process and was politically motivated.
DREAM Act is an acronym for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors.
Under the administration plan, illegal immigrants will be immune from deportation if they were brought to the United States before turning 16 and are younger than 30. They would have to have been in the country for at least five continuous years, have no criminal record, graduated from a U.S. high school or earned a GED, or served in the military.
More importantly, they can apply for a work permit that will be good for two years with no limits on how many times it can be renewed. The policy will not lead toward citizenship but will remove the threat of deportation.
The policy will allow young people opportunities to pursue better jobs, start businesses and create new jobs, said Jorge Hernandez, executive director of Capitol Hill Main Street program.
“The whole Hispanic community is celebrating today,” Hernandez said. “This means the life parents hoped for their children when they came to the United States isn't limited or have a ceiling.”
Michael Brooks-Jimenez, an immigration attorney in Oklahoma City, said his telephone has been ringing nonstop since the announcement was made. He said he's researching the process and paperwork that will be required to obtain work permits for his younger clients that meet the new policy requirements.