Dream Act advocate: 'This means I can be normal'
It was early Friday morning, and UCLA graduate Maria Gomez had only heard some of the news -- something about President Obama granting immunity to young illegal immigrants like herself -- when the congratulatory text messages began flying in.
She would be able to apply for a work permit, and a driver's license, according to texts from her friends. Although Obama is paving the way for work permits, obtaining driver's licenses are a matter of state law and unaffected by his announcement.
For Gomez, these little privileges mean so much.
Gomez, 26, recently graduated from UCLA with a master's degree in architecture, but has had trouble finding work because she is not in the U.S. legally.
Like so many young illegal immigrants, despite doing everything right, Gomez has lived in two worlds: one full of opportunity and one filled with closed doors. Fear of deportation has meant Gomez and her family have had to remain on edge all the time. A chill would hit her spine when she saw a police officer and she would have to come up with excuses when friends would invite her to movies that require ID.
“This means I can be normal,” Gomez said Friday after hearing the news. “I can go through things without having to worry.”
Gomez fell into periods of speechlessness Monday trying to process the meaning of an executive order that has yet to be fully explained. Like many in the community of undocumented students, Gomez rejoiced at the news, calling it “an amazing first step.”
But she stressed that it was only a first step. She said the next steps would include passage of the Dream Act, and later immigration reform that could bring legal residency and citizenship to young illegal immigrants like her.
“There’s been a growing movement for about 10 years,” Gomez said. Obama, she added, was “just waiting for the right time.”
The moves comes as Obama is locked in an election-year battle in which the Latino vote will likely play an important role. Gomez said Obama’s decision will lead to a “more enlightened” society in which illegal immigrants get an education and provide an economic stimulus.
“We’re going to function completely differently,” Gomez said. “All those students you see on the bus for four or five hours, now they’ll be doing something else, something productive.
“It’s something that affects everyone.”
-- Matt Stevens and Christopher Goffard
Photo: Maria Gomez adjusts her cap before her graduation ceremony at UCLA. Credit: Christina House / For The Times