Young immigrants share stories with Sen. Durbin
Alejandro Molina Hoyos, 18, of Pingree Grove was unable to accept the Presidential Scholarship from the University of Illinois because he didn't have a Social Security number.
Gerardo Medrano, 20, had the highest grades in his physics class at Streamwood High School but wasn't allowed to participate in an internship at NASA or Fermilab because he was an undocumented immigrant.
Carpentersville resident Tzolkin Gonzales of Carpentersville lost her spot in the nursing program at Elgin Community College because of her undocumented status.
And 24-year-old Maria Torres is trying to complete her degree at Northern Illinois University without the help of financial aid.
The students shared their stories Tuesday with U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin at Elgin Community College during a discussion on President Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which is modeled after the DREAM Act that Durbin introduced 11 years ago but which was never made law.
The deferred action program allow young undocumented immigrants to obtain a work permit without the threat of deportation. But there are restrictions.
In order to qualify, applicants must prove they arrived in the U.S. before they turned 16, are 30 or younger, have been living here at least five years, and are in school or graduated or served in the military. They also cannot have been convicted of certain crimes or otherwise pose a safety threat.
"President Obama said these young people are not a threat to the United States," Durbin said. "In fact, they are an opportunity for the United States to become a better and stronger nation. So we are going to give them a chance ... to stay here and renew that temporary status regularly."
Molina Hoyos called the policy a "ray of hope."
"It gives me the freedom to move around," Molina Hoyos said. "I will be able to work and help my parents to pay for my education."
Durbin added that 11,000 people lined up at Navy Pier earlier this month to apply for the program, but just 2,000 applications were processed.
"The initial response at Navy Pier was so overwhelming that we are now trying to set up a network of sources of information, and Elgin is one of the areas where many of these young people came to Navy Pier and couldn't get help that day," Durbin said. "So we came out here to tell them that we're trying to create something here at the community college to give them a chance to apply.
Elgin Community College President David Sam said the college would work with volunteers and Centro de Informacion in Elgin to set up an informational seminar.
Opponents of the program, however, said the deferred action is sending the wrong message.
"It is an amnesty," said Ira Mehlman, spokesman for Washington, D.C.-based FAIR, the Federation for American Immigration Reform. "It is rewarding illegal behavior, and when you do that it encourages more of it."
In addition, Mehlman said the program strains an already struggling labor market.
"At the community college, I am sure there are people looking for work, and what the president has done is entitled 2 million people of a similar age to flood the labor market and compete with them," Mehlman said. "We don't know the impact and who is going to lose out."
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