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Undocumented UCLA students enjoy 'big graduation gift' from Obama

June 15, 2012 |  4:21 pm

Undocumented UCLA graduate
The undocumented students gather outside a small church across the street from UCLA, where official graduation ceremonies will be held later Friday.

They walk back and forth and hug each other. Most have big smiles, their teeth showing, their eyes wide. They say things like “surreal,” “excited” and everything you think graduates would say. Some were up late last night studying for the last final.

Many woke up -- or were jostled out of a nap -- to President Obama’s announcement that young illegal immigrants will be allowed to apply for work permits without fear of deportation.

"Obama said he’s gonna save us," shouts Arlete Pichardo, an undocumented double major in history and ethnic studies.

"What, what!" she whoops, pumping both hands in the air. "The Dream Act is gonna pass. This is just a stepping stone. I know he needs to get reelected, whatever. We know he needs it for the campaign, but the Dream Act is gonna pass,” Pichardo says.

She is dressed in her black cap and gown, one of 18 undocumented students taking part in a pre-graduation ceremony sponsored by IDEAS at UCLA, a support and resource organization for undocumented students.

As the students face the media cameras outside, their parents stay inside the church -- away from the public spotlight.

When Pichardo would head out to protests, she says, her mother would tell her, "Dios mio, don’t do that, it’s not safe."

But Pichardo believes that “the more you out yourself, the safer you are."

Pichardo is originally from Mexicali and moved to the United States when she was 4. Her mother is a housekeeper who cleans 15 rooms a day and earns minimum wage.

Pichardo says she was offered a job two weeks ago, but was forced to turn it down because of her legal status. “But now I’m gonna call them back,” she says.

Leslye Osegueda, 21, a political science major, says she was awakened by friends at 6:30 a.m. with the news. They checked the Internet to make sure it was real and then sent out mass texts to all their friends.

"It’s a big graduation gift knowing we can actually use our degrees," Osegueda said.

The 18 undocumented students line up for a camera in rows, shortest in front.

"Everyone say Bruins!" someone yells.

"Bruins!" the group shouts in unison.

"Everyone say Dream Act!"

"Dream Act!"

Then a straggler yells, "Work permits!" -- and everyone laughs.

They line up in double file and walk into the church, with a chant that, on Friday, held a lot more meaning: “Undocumented! Unafraid!”


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Obama immigration plan: 'This will change the lives of my children'

Steve Lopez: Easy to be skeptical about Obama immigration motives

-- Weston Phippen

Photo: Undocumented UCLA students, including Arlete Pichardo, gather near campus on Friday afternoon for a pre-graduation ceremony. Credit: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times