When word got out Friday that President Obama planned on announcing a change in policy for deportations and working visas for young undocumented immigrants, a group of San Gabriel Valley youth was protesting at the Obama Campaign offices in Culver City. It was as if — at long last — the president was actually hearing their demands.
“As soon as we heard the news at the very beginning we were surprised,” said David Buenrostro, a resident of El Monte. “We know that we've got Obama's attention. It felt very good. That's one thing, we started out by making our voices heard, that Obama is acknowledging us.”
Buenrostro, an organizer with the San Gabriel Valley chapter of the national Immigrant Youth Coalition, arrived from Michoacan, Mexico as a four year old and grew up in Whittier and El Monte. He remembers that he crossed the border, but little more. “I didn't know what was going on, all I knew was that I was going to see my father,” Buenrostro, now 21, said. “That was very exciting.”
When he started applying for college, though, he realized that action he took as a four year old resulted in a violation of immigration law. Without papers, he has worked with a false Social Security number, paying taxes into an account he can never collect. Driving is an exercise in fear and he can’t pursue his dreams of working in education.
“It would be really impactful for me,” he said, of the policy which would enable him to have a two-year renewable work visa. And it might provide his younger sister, who is just graduating from high school, a chance to start college without the fears of deportation that have haunted him.
The mood, though, on Friday, amongst undocumented youth activists, often known as Dreamers for legislation tied to their cause, was cautiously optimistic. The 20 to 30 members of the San Gabriel Valley chapter, he said, come from diverse backgrounds reflective of the area. “We're all undocumented,” he said. “It's really exciting when we see it's not just a Latino issue. More of our younger peers and students coming out. We have a whole variety which is really, really exciting.”
Buenrostro said their caution is that Obama in the past has not kept the commitment to halt deportation of undocumented young people. “We know that we have a lot of deportation cases that are very difficult to stop, because a lot of them have been denied,” he said. “While Obama is saying he is not deporting Dream Act eligible youth, behind the scenes we see all these deportations happening.” Other concerns included that it would exclude students due to criminal backgrounds, and that there are many young people who have been waiting 10 years that the legislation has been pending and now are too old. “I don't want to sound like we're pessimistic," he said. “We have to be sure about what the information is. We're here waiting and we've been here for the past 10 years. We are all waiting for some sort of relief to contribute back to our societies, to our communities.”