Young undocumented students split on Obama administration's new immigration policy

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Some students were overjoyed by President Barack Obama's new immigration policy, while others were disappointed it didn't go further. Even before Obama announced changes to policy affecting young immigrants Friday, a group of Dream Act supporters in Los Angeles were protesting outside his local campaign headquarters. Now they’re saying the president didn’t go far enough.

Jahel Campos is a sophomore in high school, a Dreamer-in-waiting. She’s surrounded by a handful of college students and graduates outside a second-floor strip mall office in Culver City. They’ve been occupying it since Thursday — as if they predicted the president's announcement.

“We came to occupy Obama’s headquarters because we’re tired of the deportations — we’re tired of the promises, and we think that he’s taking advantage of his reelection to keep our hopes up and to win that Latino vote," Campos said. "And we don’t want just promises; we want something to happen.”

There have been similar occupations throughout the country. What the students want is a direct path to citizenship — not another discretionary measure.

In his speech, President Obama made it clear that this new deferment would apply to Dream Act-eligible kids under 30 — but it is not amnesty, or immunity. It isn’t a path to citizenship, nor a permanent fix.

He stressed that if brought to him, he would sign the DREAM Act, though.

Dreamer David Buenrostro says the president could go an extra step.

“The priority would be the executive order," Buenrostro said. "We know that right now in Congress nothing is going to pass related to the Dream Act, and we cannot keep our fingers crossed for that, so for now, we have to make sure that Obama signs that executive order.”

Short of that executive order, L.A.-based immigration lawyer Jack Sung says Dreamers with a totally clean record could be a shoo-in for the new deportation deferment. But what about those young people with multiple traffic violations for driving without a license, or what are known as “repeat immigration law offenders”?

"Now, there are another class of undocumented people who may have gone out of the U.S. after they entered," Sung said. "And their departure was found out by immigration. So in that situation, there are more risks of deportation, because the government might be less lenient on these people, because they’re ‘repeat offenders.’"

Politicians across the Southland praised Obama's move

Some young people also reacted more positively to the news. News of the policy spread almost instantaneously among some students graduating from UCLA Friday, as about 50 graduating undocumented students gathered at St. Albans church across the street from UCLA.

Many of the students alternated between wiping tears of joy from their eyes and tweeting their excitement over the president's news with shaking fingers. Many also say they’ve been fielding phone calls and texts from friends and relatives all morning.

All of the students there were brought to the United States as children from around the world — Peru, South Korea, El Salvador and, of course, Mexico.

Kevin Lee, who was graduating with a major in History with a minor in East Asian Humanities. He’s from South Korea, and remembers the journey, which took place when he was in the third grade.

Another student, Jose Quintero, arrived in the states at 8 months old. Today, he’s graduating with honors with a degree in mechanical engineering.

The graduates say the news couldn’t have arrived on a more auspicious day. Some students said they’d been putting off looking for jobs in their respective fields because, until now, they couldn’t legally work in this country.

Arlette Pichardo and Carlos Flores drove into commencement thinking of all the new options they'd have, as a result of the policy.

Marching into the commencement ceremony the students chanted, “Undocumented: Unafraid!”

According to a recent UCLA/UC Berkeley study, there are an estimated 32,000 young people who are Dream Act-eligible in the Los Angeles area — but their ability to qualify for Obama’s latest policy change depends on multiple conditions.

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