Dream Act Students Celebrate Reprieve from Deportations

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Photo by Jen Reel
Daniel Candelaria, Loren Campos at an UT Austin rally to pass the Dream Act

DREAM Act students are still in a state of excited shock after learning Friday morning that President Obama will grant renewable two-year permits to work legally in the United States.

Students and graduates under 30 who entered the country illegally or overstayed their visas when they were under the age of 16 will be able to reside legally in the United States and apply for a work permit. The permits will be granted for two years and are renewable. To qualify they have to have graduated from a U.S. high school or joined the military and not have committed any felonies or significant misdemeanors, according to a press release from the Department of Homeland Security.

DREAM Act students across the country began celebrating and calling friends early this morning after the Associated Press broke the news. “I am so excited I can barely speak right now,” said Loren Campos, who graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 2011 with a degree in civil engineering. Campos was unable to work in his field, however, because his mother had brought him to the United States as a child without the proper documents. “I’ve been getting text messages and phone calls all morning. We knew that President Obama was assessing the situation but we weren’t sure he had the political will to do this.”

It’s been a long, difficult journey for Dream Act students. Campos, who is 23, spent the last six years advocating for the DREAM Act – traveling to Washington D.C. to lobby congressional members, staging protests and holding press conferences. The DREAM Act—an acronym for the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act—which would allow young students or military recruits to live and work legally in the United States, has been brought up before Congress several times only to be defeated. As many as 800,000 immigrants could be granted relief from deportation with the new policy change, according to the AP.

The announcement by the Obama Administration bypasses Congress and allows thousands of students and members of the military to step out of the shadows. Campos had been struggling to make ends meet. Now he’ll be able to take an internship in engineering and start on his career, he says.

Daniel Candelaria, 23, another undocumented UT Austin graduate also spent several years lobbying legislators for the DREAM Act. Like Campos he was fielding text messages and Facebook posts early Friday from his fellow DREAMers celebrating the news. “This changes everything,” he says. “I don’t even know how to process it yet. It’s a huge relief.”

Candelaria says he received his UT Austin diploma in the mail just yesterday but felt only sadness when he opened the envelope. “I thought, ‘well, there it is, but there’s nothing I can do with it.’”

Now Candelaria says he can achieve his goal of becoming a high school social studies teacher. “It feels like Christmas,” he says. “After so many years of struggle we’ve finally achieved something.”

Melissa del Bosque joined The Texas Observer staff in 2008. She specializes in reporting on immigration and the U.S.-Mexico border. Her work has been published in national and international publications including TIME magazine and the Mexico City-based Nexos magazine. Melissa is a 2014-15 Lannan Fellow at The Investigative Fund.