The Supreme Court struck down parts of Arizona's immigration policy on Monday. And earlier this month, the Obama administration announced that it will grant deferred action to certain illegal immigrants who arrived as minors. That does not pave a path to permanent legal status or citizenship, but does delay the threat of deportation for many. Photographer Mae Ryan at member station KPCC in Los Angeles has been following undocumented youth to tell the story.
Claudia Ramirez, 25, emigrated from Mexico with her parents when she was 4 and is currently pursuing a degree in nutrition. She doesn't have a work permit and has been taking odd jobs to pay for school. Ramirez hopes she might soon be eligible for a work permit, and says she looks forward to days when she doesn't have to lie anymore. "Now I can go for my dreams," she says.
Ruben Sanchez was a 1-year-old when he came to the States. He will soon be the first member of his family to go straight from high school to a four-year college. Money will be tough, though; he's been helping his mother make ends meet by selling tortas at school. He seems hopeful that Obama's statement might hint at financial assistance.
Isaac Barrera was 4 years old when he came to the U.S. and currently studies at Pasadena City College. About nine months ago, Isaac was stopped by an officer as he drove his car with a broken headlight; he was asked for his license and ticketed. He didn't pay the ticket, and soon after, there was a warrant for his arrest. Now he's out on bail but could face deportation.
John Perez emigrated from Colombia under political asylum when he was 3 years old. A beneficiary of the DREAM Act, Perez is less optimistic about President Obama's announcement, saying it seems like an attempt to give the Latino community a sense of security to secure votes. He says he would like to see an executive policy granting citizenship to his peers.
Alma de Jesus immigrated when she was 6. After finishing her degree, she has been unable to get a full-time job due to her status. Because she is older than 30, she won't be eligible for Obama's deferred action program, but she says she is hopeful that her children, both U.S. citizens, will have bright futures.
Ana Venegas, who came to the U.S. from Guadalajara when she was less than a year old, recently graduated from college with a degree in sociology. Because she couldn't get a license, she made a 4-hour round-trip bus commute every day. "It's been really, really difficult," she says.
The day before her college graduation, Ana Venegas heard about Obama's announcement. "It's not just going to be for me," she says, "but for thousands and thousands of students in my situation that have already graduated, [who] are stuck in limbo and ... don't know what to do with their career."
I started photographing illegal immigrant students and graduates in April for a short feature about Isaac Barrera, who is in college and has been living in the U.S. since he was 4 years old.
While driving about nine months ago, Isaac was pulled over for a broken headlight. He was asked for his license, ticketed and later arrested for failing to appear in court. Now he is out on bail but could face deportation.
Isaac Barrera at home
Isaac Barrera at home
Barrera's bedroom is covered in photos and drawings by fellow beneficiaries of the California DREAM Act, which has given conditional permanent residency to students like him.
From the day I showed up at his house and met his family, I realized that I wanted to share the faces and voices of these people who had been living in the shadows for so long.
When President Obama announced the deferred action plan a few months later, I called up some of them and was surprised by the varied reactions. Some were ecstatic that they might finally get work permits; others still say it's not enough — and a few won't be eligible for the benefits at all. All of them made one thing clear: To finally leave behind the fear of deportation is a relief, but citizenship is the goal.
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