A year ago today, the federal government started accepting applications for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which grants temporary legal status to immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children. Since then, 5,946 Massachusetts immigrants have applied. Meet some of them below.
Katherine graduated with an associate's degree in business from Marian Court College in Swampscott. These days, she works for the Student Immigrant Movement in Boston, advocating for immigration reform. She says she initially became an activist for her own personal benefit; she wanted to advocate for the DREAM Act. But now she says her work has taken on a life of its own. She's fighting for the entire immigrant community, not just herself.
Katherine says she doesn't feel the current U.S. Senate immigration bill is fair. She thinks it spends too much money on border security. But she says the immigrant community has been fighting for so long that it needs some sort of relief. Her main concern is that it's going to take too long to get citizenship, and in the waiting game people will fall out of the system or lose faith and return to their homeland.
For Katherine, DACA isn't the ideal solution; it's only temporary. But she acknowledges it has fundamentally changed her life.
Jesus waits tables at Longfellow's Wayside Inn in Sudbury. It's a historic landmark, once owned by the inventor of the automobile, Henry Ford. Working at the oldest still-operating inn in the country is a point of a pride for him as a new immigrant.
He's been an employee there for more than a year, but he can't legally work in the U.S. He applied using his tax ID number instead of a Social Security number. He says management never asked about his status and he never said anything.
He says he understands that by talking to WBUR, his status with his employer is now public, but he says the need to tell his story transcends his fear.
Jesus, unlike many others we interviewed for this story, says he always knew he was undocumented; it wasn't a family secret because they didn't come by airplane, on a visa. They entered the U.S. running across the Mexican border.
Rosmery Abigail Hernandez
Abby, as she goes for short, spent the early years of her childhood in Honduras without her parents. She says her dad left to work in the U.S. before she turned 2; she couldn't even recognize his face when they reconnected.
Abby discovered she was undocumented in high school when she realized she didn't have a Social Security number. She says she never told her friends because whenever her classes debated election politics, some of her classmates would insult undocumented immigrants, accuse them of stealing American jobs and assert that they should go back to where they came from.
Abby sounds frustrated when she explains that her parents never told her she had entered the country illegally. When she was applying for DACA, she did more research on her status and discovered not only was she undocumented, but the country had already sent her a deportation letter.
Barerah's father was getting a degree in economics at Boston University, so he was in the country on a student visa. She says her father brought the rest of the family with him; she was 5 at the time.
After her dad graduated, he got an extension on the student visa. It eventually expired, but he overstayed and kept his family in the dark. Barerah says she didn't discover she was undocumented until she wanted to apply for college. When she found out, she says she resented her dad. She questioned why he hadn't bothered to straighten out the family's legal status.
Barerah eventually went on to study psychology at UMass Boston. She also has a master's degree in education from Cambridge College. She wants to teach students with disabilities. She had plans to substitute teach in the Norfolk Public School system his fall, but she's still waiting for a response to her DACA application.
Barerah says she's hopeful immigration reform will pass this time around, but she's concerned with the current form of the bill, particularly the length of time it'll take undocumented immigrants to obtain citizenship.
Xhulio says he doesn't think the Senate's version of immigration reform is ideal. Nor does he think Congress will find the perfect remedy at this point in time. He feels conflicted about whether he can support a bill that could potentially help millions of undocumented people, even if it marginalizes others.
Filipe lives with his mom, his grandmother and his cat in an apartment in Everett.
He went to Boston Latin Academy and expected after graduation to enroll in a four-year college. It wasn't that easy, though, when he discovered he was undocumented.
He eventually started college at UMass Boston, but he says he got himself deep into debt. He misread the tuition costs. He thought it was $12,000 per year, signed up for classes and then realized it was $12,000 per semester. He dropped out before completing his second year because he couldn't afford to stay. He had taken a $26,000 loan from Bank of America his first year. In theory, it was supposed to be an annual recurring loan, but when the economy tanked, he couldn't renew it.
To make matters worse, his mom lost her job. So they had no money to pay the tuition bill. He's planning to start classes at the Harvard Extension School this fall, with the hopes of majoring in government and economics.
While Filipe plans to start college again, his younger brother is living an entirely different life. He got into trouble and was deported back to Brazil. Filipe says his biggest concern with immigration reform is how the bill will treat mixed status families, like his own.
This program aired on August 15, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.