Posted: Jun 15, 2012 5:56 PM
Updated: Jun 15, 2012 6:19 PM
BROWNSVILLE - Today thousands of illegal immigrants potentially avoided deportation. The Department of Homeland Security announced a deferred action that will allow many illegal immigrants to stay in the U.S. legally.
Benigno Pena, the executive director of South Texas Immigration Council, said it's a big win for illegal immigrants who work in fear and provides a new avenue for legal help.
Pena expects to stay busy over the next few months. He told us this might be a one-time opportunity for illegal immigrants who wish to legally stay in the country.
People living in the U.S. illegally can apply for deferred action if they meet the following guidelines:
Pena said his staff works with more than 50 illegal immigrants every week who fall into this category. But it could prove difficult for some to show they meet all of the guidelines.
Pena explained a lot of illegal immigrants who graduated from school but couldn't find work might need a lot more legal help to qualify.
"It's going to be difficult to prove that you remained here, because you have to live here up until the date that you filed. So we're going to have gather affidavits or other proof that the person has remained here in the United States," he said.
Pena added the government didn't say how long people will have to file the paperwork. He cautioned it could be a situation where if you don't file the paperwork in time, you're out of luck.
University students in the Rio Grande Valley are also getting ready. The deferred action announcement will affect hundreds of undocumented students.
For years, Esther Herrera was one of the students in limbo. She was brought to the U.S. as a baby. "It feels like you are lying and you're not offering sincere friendships, because you have to withhold information," she said. "You have to work harder. You have to try more in school. You have to make sure you don't break the law."
Herrera is now in the last stage of getting her legal residency.
"I was legally adopted when I was still in high school. That's how I was able to petition for legal residency," she explained. "It's painful, because I had to basically make a decision that would legally separate me from my family."
The deferred action announcement comes at the right time for the people Herrera cares about, the other 599 undocumented students at the University of Texas-Pan Am.
"I've had so many friends that go through this - the fear of deportation. They've been separated from their families. It's painful," she said.
She told us the need to hide isn't necessary for now. UTPA President Dr. Robert Nelsen said the university will do whatever it takes to help the 600 undocumented students apply for the new deferred action.
He anticipates it could be a lot of paperwork, but he says it's worth it to help his students find their way to working and going to school legally in the U.S.