Catholic Sentinel photo by Kim Nguyen
A tearful Miriam Corona tells her story. She has applied to be protected from deportation.
Catholic Sentinel photo by Kim Nguyen
A tearful Miriam Corona tells her story. She has applied to be protected from deportation.
Ten youths from Portland were among the first to apply this summer for new federal protection from deportation for young people brought to the U.S. as youths. Backed by dozens of family and friends last month, they walked from the Portland offices of Immigration and Naturalization Services to the main post office to file applications.

The program, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, had been announced in the spring by President Obama.

Miriam Corona, a member of San Martin de Porres Church in Dayton, was the first to turn in her application. She came to the U.S. from Mexico with family at 9 months old. She grew up believing in the American dream, worked hard, volunteered, stayed out of trouble, graduated at the top of her class and planned for her future. But she new she could be sent to Mexico at any time.

She weeps when she talks about being undocumented. The status, she says, has held her back.  

"A lot of people take for granted and don't understand there's so many barriers for us," she said. "There's a misconception among the public about undocumented people. They say things like, 'Why don't these people get in line like everyone else?' There's no way to be documented. The (INS) system is so complicated."

Cornoa is excited but nervous about her application. She's aware of the risks but says, "We all have to be leaders."

Hugo Nicolas came to the U.S. when he was 11. He was always aware of his undocumented status, but did not know what a roadblock it would be until he applied for a police cadet position in his city. He was asked for his Social Security number and citizenship paperwork, neither of which he had. He graduated at top of his class and was captain of the Reserve Officer Training Corps.

"I believe we are all here for one purpose, to follow the American dream," Nicolas says.  

Oregon ranks among the top 15 states in the number of applicants, with 16,600 expected. The social service and advocacy group Causa has been holding application clinics around Oregon.

In June, President Obama announced that the policy of prosecutorial discretion—which allows immigration agents to defer deportation of low-risk, non criminal undocumented immigrants — would apply to those age 15-30 who have been in the US for at least five years continuously and came before age 15. Those convicted of serious crimes or repeated small offenses are not eligible.

Activists are still unhappy with some immigration policies. A local immigrant rights organization is highlighting the plight of children left orphaned by deportation. Portland-based Causa says federal immigration officials have deported 46,000 parents who have U.S. citizen children in six months. The rising number of parental deportations has corresponded with an overall increase in immigration enforcement under the Obama administration. In fiscal year 2011, a record 397,000 people were deported.  

The Applied Research Center says that 22 percent of deportees in the first half of this year were parents of citizens.