"[Lawmakers] are playing politics with our lives," said Mateo. "I'm going to fight my case to stay here. The thought of being deported is a scary one, but the thought of having to wait one or two more years for a Dream Act to pass is scarier."
An estimated 65,000 undocumented students graduate from U.S. high schools every year, according to the nonpartisan research group Urban Institute. Many are not eligible to hold jobs or go on to college because of their status.
Some conservative immigration groups have expressed sympathy for the students' plight but insist the students ought to be forced to return to their native countries.
"When you break the law as a parent, you're assuming a certain amount of risk, and frequently your children are affected by that," said Dan Stein, president of Federation for American Immigration Reform. "That's what happened in this case: The parents assumed a certain amount of risk on behalf of the kids, some of the kids have done well in school, but unless there's a humanitarian basis or extraordinary circumstance, why wouldn't it be in the best interest of the sending country to take talent and capable people to work at building their own countries?"
The Dream Act, which has existed in various legislative forms for nearly a decade, is a narrow immigration provision that applies only to young adults who entered the country illegally, often at the hands of their parents, before the age of 16. It would provide a six-year-long conditional path to legal status that would include a clean criminal record and mandatory completion of a college degree or two years of military service among other things.
The Dream measure has 37 co-sponsors in the Senate, including one Republican, Richard Lugar, R-Ind. It has 118 supporters in the House.
If passed, the Dream Act would extend eligible resident status to an estimated 1 million children and young adults, according to a 2006 study by the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank.