This was the first day young illegal immigrants were able to apply for President Obama's new immigration program. Under the plan, immigrants who are younger than 31 and arrived in America before their 16th birthdays are eligible for permits that will allow them to live and work legally in the U.S. for two years.
Some 1.76 million immigrants could be eligible for the program, according to the Migration Policy Institute. Here is a snapshot of the young immigrants who showed up at federal offices around the country today to apply for legal status.
|Nataly Montano Vargas|
For seventeen-year-old Nataly Montano Vargas, submitting her deferred action application today in Washington, D.C. meant that she did not have to give up on her childhood dream.
"I'm not going to give up on my dreams, because I've wanted to be a doctor since I was six years old," Montano Vargas said today while in line to submit her application. "I don't want to cry but it means so much to me because I got the chance to go to school, I can go to college. And just to work legally in this country, being what I want to be, a doctor."
Nataly lives in Arlington, Virginia and is going to Texas Tech University in the fall. She will be a pre-med student, majoring in cellular molecular biology with a psychology minor. She said she wants to be a cardiac surgeon.
She may seem like the typical seventeen-year-old, about to begin her first year of college -- but for years, Nataly was weighed down by a secret she was too scared to reveal.
"It was really scary at first, because my parents didn't want me to say anything publically, because they were worried about getting deported or, you know, being found out or coming to my house," she said.
Nataly was born in Bolivia and her mother brought her to the United States, leaving her brother and sister behind, held up by visa problems. Her family was not supposed to stay in the U.S. long, she says, only for a couple of months until they could earn some money and return to Bolivia.
Twelve years later her family has not gone back. She's lived in the U.S. without documentation.
"I have not seen my brother or sister for 12 years," she said, fighting back tears.
Over the years, Nataly said, she was "lucky enough" to find some babysitting jobs around her neighborhood in Arlington. But it was never enough money.
"The older I get, I need to work, to support myself. And I try to help my family as much as I can. But it's also hard for them to find work because we're undocumented."
Nataly said her brother and sister in Bolivia are really excited for her for the small step she took today, however temporary.
"They can't wait until my work permit comes out and they are really hoping this goes well. And I'm going to keep working at this, just keep doing this for them."
Adrian Reyna had to give up his dream of going to MIT because he was undocumented.
Born in Montenegro, Mexico, his family brought him to the United States illegally when he was eleven.
"I never actually knew why, my parents, they actually have not told us what happened," Reyna said. " I knew it was something really bad. But we had to leave."
His family settled in Houston in 2004. He said he found out formally he was undocumented when he started applying for scholarships and his parents told him the truth. He could not get a scholarship.
"It really struck me," Reyna said. "The moment that I don't have a Social Security number it was like a complete 'No, there's nothing we can do, goodbye.' So it was really heartbreaking."
He really wanted to attend MIT on a scholarship and study chemical engineering. When he was not able to get the scholarship, he decided to go to the University of Texas instead.
Now a senior there, Reyna says he will now be looking forward to "putting to practice" what he's learned in school and working in the U.S.
"Now that I am able to have a work permit I can just work part time and really just sustain myself now," he says.
After college he said he hopes to help his father at his growing heating and air conditioning service company in Houston.
"This is a very happy day," he said in Washington. "We are finally able to rest in peace knowing that we are not being prosecuted every day for deportation."
Myrna Orozco said today is so special to her because she no longer feels as worried about being separated from her own family.
Myrna is the only undocumented person in her family, living in Kansas City, Missouri after being brought to the United States from Mexico where she was born.
"I feel like I can get the assurance that I won't be separated from my citizen family," Myrna said, "and will be able to live with them and not live in fear of being separated from them."
Twenty-two-year-old Myrna said if her application is accepted, she looks forward to being able to drive.
"I don't have to ask my 16-year-old sister to take me everywhere," she said.
Myrna hopes to go on to college and to be able someday to open a community center to help others who find themselves in the same situation.
"Many youth from our community have dropped out, have decided to start working, putting aside their educational goals and dreams. So my goal is to open a center where they may be able to go back, get their GED, figure out what options they have to continue with their education."
She described today as the first step in a larger fight but said she does feel like a small weight has been lifted from her shoulders.
Twenty-one-year-old Raymond Jose says for the first time in a long time his life doesn't feel on hold.
"This day means that I can finally pursue my dreams and my life is finally back in play," Jose said while filling out his application in Washington today. "Since high school I've had to put my life on pause."
Raymond was born in the Philippines and came to the United States with his family when he was nine. His family wanted to give him and his sister a "better education and a better future."
He first found out he was undocumented when he was in his junior year of high school and started thinking of applying to colleges. It was then that his family told him he was undocumented.
"I kind of was shocked and I didn't know about it until then," he said. "It was hard."
He said today gives him a little hope. He said he hopes to become a nurse and then get another degree in medicine, specializing in cardiology.
"Hopefully that goes through once I'm on my feet," he said.
Ramiro Luna was seven years old when his father and two older siblings came into the United States from Monterrey, Mexico, driving across the Texas border on tourist visas. For the past 22 years Luna said he has lived with the fear of deportation, unable to hold jobs because he does not have legal status.
"People can't imagine how it feels not just to be a second class citizen, it's almost like you are invisible to the county," Luna said. "You have to hide who you are."
When President Obama announced in June that his administration would offer work permits to young, undocumented immigrants, Luna said the news "seemed heaven sent."
"With all honestly I just kind of broke down and cried," Luna said. "We have been fighting for this for years; we have been putting our heart and soul into this for years. To finally come to a conclusion seemed a bit overwhelming. It seemed like we finally made it."
Luna, who now lives in Dallas, said he has compiled a slew of paperwork to prove he came into the country before he was 16. The packet he planned to present to federal immigration agents includes everything from first communion records, to old photos of him as a child in the U.S., to bills proving his need for a job.
"That document is going to change my life forever," Luna said. "Everything is going to be different. I now feel welcome."
Luna, 29, said he has been fired from three jobs once his employers found out he was not in the country legally.
With this two-year work permit Luna said there are now "opportunities that I am tangibly able to get," such as "being able to apply for any jobs I desire without the fear of them rejecting me for my lack of a Social Security number, being able to drive freely without fearing being pulled over by a cop."
"I'll be able to travel and go back to a country that I haven't seen for over 20 years," he said.
But Luna, who now works as a Dream Act activist after co-founding the North Texas Dream Team, said he is "happy" but "not satisfied" with Obama's two-year fix. He said he will keep fighting for passage of the Dream Act so he can gain permanent legal status.
Luna said if he can become a legal resident, he wants to run for a seat on the Dallas School Board and eventually the city council. The two-year work permit is a step in the right direction, he said.
"Even though it's just two years we will just make the best of these two years and just pray that we will have the opportunity returned the next time we reapply," he said.
Until four years ago, Nicole, a 21-year-old college student in Dallas, was a legal immigrant.
She moved to the United States from the Philippines when she was six years old under her parents' business visa. But when the recession hit, her parents' business "went under and we lost everything" including their visas, said Nicole. She declined to give her last name for fear of losing her job at an attorney's office.
Nicole said she found out she was undocumented shortly after her 18th birthday, when she went to renew her driver's license.
"Whoever took my paper kicked me out and told me not to come back," she said. "When I asked my mother about it she said, 'I didn't know how to explain it to you guys.' She didn't think this would actually happen to us."
Now a student at the University of Texas at Arlington, Nicole is an advocate for immigration reform and the Dream Act. She said Obama's announcement that his administration would not to deport young, undocumented immigrants is a "just another step" toward the Dream Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for young illegal immigrants who attend college or serve in the military.
Nicole said her dream is to become an immigration lawyer.
"If the attorney that took on our case had just a tenth of the passion I have for this movement I wouldn't be in this predicament," she said. "I'll never be able to reach my dreams if I don't receive my work permit."
Dressed in black, seven-year-old Ana Aguayo, her mother and her seven siblings made the ten-hour trek across the U.S.-Mexico border in 1997. They left behind their family home, which burned in a fire, and the memory of her grandfather, who died shortly before they left.
"Having lost what we knew -- photos, family -- we had to start a life anew here," Aguayo said.
When she graduated from her Arkansas high school in 2006, Aguayo said she realized "how limited I was."
Without a Social Security number, Aguayo could not get a driver's license or a job and in 2008, halfway through her undergraduate degree, she had to start paying out-of-state tuition because of a change in Arkansas law.
With the work permit she plans to apply for, Aguayo said she will be able to take the LSAT and apply to law school. Her dream is to become an attorney working in international law.
"It's going to give me the ability to start a career and open up a world that for so many years has been denied," she said.