Julio Calderon received the news via text message while in class. Tears soon followed.
President Barack Obama’s announcement last month that many undocumented immigrant students and military service members would no longer have to fear deportations and could legally work in the United States represented a small victory in four years of advocacy and lobbying on behalf of his classmates.
As a student organizer for Students Working for Equal Rights, Calderon spent countless hours lobbying Congress to pass legislation known as the DREAM Act. But even as his advocacy efforts paid off for his fellow students, the Honduran immigrant’s personal dream remains unfulfilled: Calderon is not eligible for the new policy change because he entered the country illegally two months after his 16th birthday.
“I left class feeling happy that all our work over the last few years was worth it,” Calderon, 23, said following Obama’s announcement.
Days later, he acknowledged what he’d known for years: “You have many people who have been fighting for this for years and they’ll be left out, just like myself.”
Still, he remains a staunch supporter of the DREAM Act. For the past two weeks, Calderon has held informational sessions at Miami Dade College’s Wolfson Campus for undocumented high school and college students who want to apply for the new protected status.
The policy shift, known as “deferred action,” will protect an estimated 800,000 undocumented immigrants from deportation and allow them to apply for work permits. The policy applies to those who arrived in the country before they turned 16.
But there are potentially hundreds of thousands of other young undocumented immigrants living in the country whose fate will remain in limbo. These are young immigrants who, like Calderon, were either brought into the country after the age of 16 or arrived here as young children, but have lived in the country for more than 15 years and now are older than 30 — the cut off point for eligibility.
Many of these young immigrants, know as DREAMers, have urged Congress for more than a decade to pass legislation that will allow them a pathway to citizenship, so they can access scholarship funds and work in the country legally. Now these individuals are left out because of the age restrictions.
The exact number of people in this specific category is unknown because so many are without paperwork, but immigration experts estimate the figure is likely as high as those now protected. It is estimated that there are 11.2 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States.
While many conservative and liberal advocates agree that immigration reform is long overdue, most are cautious, if not critical of the policy change.
“Just to feel this small relief is great, but that doesn’t mean that we forgot about those who were left out or that this is a temporary solution,” said Natalia Jaramillo, an organizer with the Florida Immigrant Coalition, a progressive immigrant advocacy group. “As long as we don’t strive for the bigger goal, we’re always going to see members of our family and members of our community suffering from this issue.”
Others say the move by Obama was motivated by election year politics.
“It’s a cynical way to look at and treat immigration,” said Jennifer Korn, the executive director of the Hispanic Leadership Network, a conservative policy organization. “Obama had the opportunity to do it in the first two years and he didn’t.”