Alexis Meza is among the young immigrants in Kentucky illegally who expect to benefit from President Barack Obama's new policy that gives protection from deportation.
"I would qualify for it and benefit from it," said Meza, 21, a graduate of Bluegrass Community and Technical College whose family moved from Mexico to the United States when she was 9. "It would give me the opportunity to work legally ... and use my degree ... and give back to my family economically ... and be able to drive."
The measure provides temporary relief for some immigrants who are undocumented. It is not an amnesty and does not provide a path to citizenship.
Under the policy Obama announced June 15, undocumented immigrants 30 or younger could avoid deportation if they have proof that they were brought to the United States before they turned 16; have been in the country for at least five continuous years; have no criminal history; and graduated from a U.S. high school, earned a GED or served in the military.
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Those eligible also can apply for a two-year work permit that can be renewed. Applications will be considered on a case-by-case basis.
Immigration advocates said Friday there is not an official count of how many people in Kentucky the program might affect.
Rachel Mendoza-Newton, an immigration attorney who practiced in Lexington before moving to Louisville, said her Louisville office has received about 70 calls about the policy since it was announced.
"They are already studying and living and working among us, and they largely seem just as American as the kids who were born here, so you wouldn't even know they were undocumented," Mendoza-Newton said.
She said the program offers "tremendous" possibilities for young immigrants by allowing them to get a driver's license, a work permit and a Social Security number. In turn, they will be more able to support their families, pay for college and work in their chosen profession, Mendoza-Newton said.
"It's going to open up a world of possibilities to these young people who already pretty much consider themselves Americans," she said.
Meza said her family moved from Mexico to Texas when she was 9. The family moved to Lancaster, where she attended Garrard County schools, when she was in the sixth grade.
Meza said she graduated from Bluegrass Community and Technical College in May with an associate degree in art and will attend the University of Kentucky as a junior in the fall.
She is a key leader of the Kentucky Dream Coalition, a network of immigrant youth who advocate for the federal Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, which would provide a path to citizenship if they meet certain educational, work, military or other requirements.
Meza said she plans to continue fighting for passage of the DREAM Act.
"We've been pushing for administrative relief for a while. It is a great first step toward pushing for something bigger," Meza said. "Congress needs to back up what the president is doing ... and actually solve this problem with the broken immigration system."
Meanwhile, Mendoza-Newton and other attorneys in the state are warning young people to be cautious of businesses that charge young people fees for helping with the application process to the new program.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a division of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, has not yet set up the process to execute the new policy. That is expected in the next 60 days.