Serrano is the oldest of three children, meaning he doesn't have an older sibling to serve as an example on how to navigate the system. His sister Denise, 15, and his brother David, 11, hope to get similar scholarships when it comes time for them to go to college, he said.
“I'm just the guinea pig of the experiment here,” he said.
Although it doesn't solve every issue, Serrano said deferred action has made a difference in his life. He recently opened his first bank account, and he's gotten a summer job as a lifeguard while he takes summer classes at UCO. He's also studying to take the state driving exam to get his driver's license. A year ago, none of those accomplishments would have been possible, he said.
Muzaffar Chishti, director of Migration Policy Institute's New York University office, said deferred action can cause major changes in the lives of those who qualify. It brings undocumented immigrants out of the shadows, allowing them to live with a certain amount of freedom.
Undocumented immigrants who receive deferred action status can travel abroad to see relatives, take jobs using their own names and go to college without fear, Chishti said. They also can look at their futures with a certain amount of predictability that didn't exist before, he said.
Despite the potential benefits the program offers, it's seen fewer participants than officials had predicted. When the policy was implemented last August, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security estimated about 1.04 million people could be eligible.
But fewer than 500,000 undocumented immigrants were granted deferred action status as of April 30, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services data.
Part of the reason for the lack of interest in deferred action could be the cost to apply, Chishti said. Applicants must pay a $465 fee — a hefty sum, particularly for people who may live in a marginal economic situation, Chishti said.
The program also doesn't include a deadline for applications, meaning people may be waiting to apply until they need to do so. Anyone who already is enrolled in high school or college or has a job may see the program as a needless expense, he said.
“This is kind of a needs-based program,” he said.
The fact that the program only offers a two-year reprieve also might discourage some eligible people from applying, he said.
Some people who don't need to change their status immediately may be waiting for a more permanent solution — one that doesn't require them to reapply every two years, he said.
But Serrano said he thinks the decision to apply was the right choice for him. For now, he said, he isn't worried about what happens in two years, when his status runs out.
“I was so excited about getting it, I'm not even worried right now about what (I'm) supposed to do afterwards,” he said. “There's always a way.”
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