Grecia Cantu was thrilled to get a seat on a Baylor University bus that took students to cheer on the school’s football team at a bowl game in California in December.
But Cantu’s excitement soon turned to dread when she realized the bus would travel through several immigration checkpoints.
She remembers switching to a less visible seat and pretending to be asleep, figuring that was her best shot at avoiding detection if officials boarded. The only identification she could provide — a Mexican citizenship card — would have been a dead giveaway she was in the United States illegally.
“Luckily, the bus went right on through and I didn’t have to provide ID,” Cantu said. “But that’s only because I was under the protection of Baylor. It’s stuff like that I don’t have to worry about anymore.”
Cantu is one of nearly 200,000 young people who have received permission to live in the
United States under a policy change established by President Barack Obama last summer. It was aimed at people brought here illegally as children by their parents.
The special permission is given for two years, with the promise of it being renewable for at least another two years after that.
Although it is not a permanent solution for young immigrants, it has allowed them to get a driver’s license and permission to work for the first time.
Locally, more 200 people have applied, said attorneys who have worked with such clients.
“I feel so normal now,” said Cantu, who asked that a different surname be used for this article to protect her parents from the threat of deportation. “I’m at such ease. I know now that if I do something accidentally, like run a stop sign, it will stay minor. It won’t lead to jail anymore.”
Cantu also can now use the business administration degree she will receive from Baylor in May. She is considering going through a teacher certification course this summer so she can pursue her original goal of becoming an elementary school teacher.
When Cantu graduated from University High School, her plan was to immediately enroll in Baylor’s school of education, with the help of several scholarships.
But after learning federal student aid wasn’t available to her because of her immigration status, she instead enrolled at McLennan Community College. Her academic performance there eventually earned her a full ride to Baylor.
Even then, Cantu had no assurance she would be able to use her degree because she didn’t have legal permission to work. She thought her only option might be to start her own marketing firm.
That changed in June, when Obama announced a policy that has become known as DACA, or deferred action for childhood arrivals. It allows certain young immigrants brought here as children to apply for legal permission to live here.
Cantu, now age 21, applied almost immediately. But because of processing glitches, she didn’t get her approval letter until early March.
Cantu’s twin 18-year-old brothers and her 26-year-old fiance also got approved. For her fiance, it means a chance to leave his restaurant job in pursuit of one that uses his media communications degree. Her brothers also are exploring newly available job offers, she said.
“We’re all just moving forward toward something better. . . . There’s nothing I want to take away from others,” Cantu said. “I just want to have the same opportunities as everyone else. I want to work and have a normal life.”
Waco attorneys Susan Nelson and Laura Hernandez have heard similar stories from dozens of other local residents. Nelson, who has a private practice that specializes in immigration cases, has helped about 60 people apply under DACA.
Nelson has volunteered at a clinic organized by Baylor Law School. It has helped about 150 people apply, she said.
Hernandez, who started and oversees the clinic, said those involved don’t hear how every application turned out. But so far, she has not heard of anyone being turned down.
Processing times generally have been good, Hernandez said. Most people have been approved about six weeks after their biometrics appointment, where fingerprints are taken.
“That may seem like a long time,” Hernandez said. “But that is like lightning speed for (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services).”
Participation in the clinic has been lower this spring, as compared to the fall, Hernandez said. That follows a national pattern.
USCIS data shows October was the peak month for applications, with 117,213 submitted. That number dropped to 15,167 for the first half of February.
Those involved in the law school clinic are trying to get the word out to people who are eligible but have not yet applied. They are reaching out to churches, schools and organizations such as the Cen-Tex Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Hernandez said.
Some people may be holding off in hopes Congress soon will come up with more permanent immigration reform, Nelson said. But attorneys are advising those who qualify to take advantage of DACA now. If a better solution eventually becomes available, people still can apply for it then, she said.
Three more clinics are being held this month. It takes an average of two hours to help each applicant fill out the necessary forms and go over the documentation they must submit with it, Nelson said.
“We give them a packet that is hopefully ready to go in the mail,” Nelson said. “We’ve still got (clinic) spots open and we’d like to fill them up.”
At a glance
Services are offered for free but an appointment must be made to receive help. Appointments can be made by calling 888-497-0018 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
People are eligible for DACA help if they were less than 31 years old when the policy was announced in June, came to the United States before age 16; and have continuously lived in the country since June 2007.
Eligible applicants must also be in school, have graduated from high school or have a GED or been honorably discharged from the military. In addition, people must be free of convictions for a felony, a significant misdemeanor or three or more other misdemeanors.
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