In a small, modest single-story house in Windsor, four siblings brought illegally to the United States as children have spent many years with their faces buried in schoolbooks preparing for a vague future, studying calculus, psychology, history and stock markets.
Their evening studies often were conducted on a coffee table in the living room, under the watchful gaze of their parents and the constant clucking of chickens strutting outside in the dirt driveway.
Last month that future became much clearer for Rosalba Rivera, 18, and her brother Marcos, 17, when they joined the nearly 200,000 young undocumented immigrants granted a temporary reprieve from deportation through an immigration program ordered by President Barack Obama last summer. Rosalba's twin sister, Melina, and their oldest sibling, Adriana, 19, are on track to get the same opportunity.
Now, although they are neither citizens nor legal permanent residents, they are no longer "illegal." At least for now, they've been given the opportunity to legally work, drive cars, pay taxes and go to school.
And their buoyed aspirations reflect the hopes and expectations of millions of other illegal immigrants who could benefit from current efforts to overhaul the nation's immigration laws.
<NO1><NO>The break the Rivera siblings got is called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. As of mid-February, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has approved temporary legal work status for 199,460 undocumented immigrants who were brought into the country as children. In California, 110,466 immigrants have applied under the program, the largest number from any state.<NO1><NO>
Melina said that when her sister received her federal work authorization card in the mail, the real possibility of one day being fully "legal" began to take root.
"When my sister got it, I felt like, oh my God, this is really happening," she said. "It's a step closer to being a legal resident here."
With financial aid now available to them, Melina, who has been accepted to Sonoma State and San Diego State, plans to double major in business and forensic sciences. Rosalba, who has been accepted to SSU and Humboldt State, is leaning toward a business major.
Adriana, the oldest, is taking classes at Santa Rosa Junior College focusing on psychology, while Marcos, a junior at Windsor High School, says he's very interested in his digital media classes and hopes to study law at Empire College.
Even as Congress begins the difficult task of forging a massive immigration bill, advocates say the newfound freedoms granted to the Riveras offer a hint to what could happen to millions of other lives if the nation's immigration laws are revamped.
In late November, Arnold Climaco, 21, received his work authorization card months after applying for deferred action. He said that when he opened the envelope and saw the card an unimaginable weight lifted from his life.
"I was excited, man. It was cool that I got my worker's permit," said Climaco, who is looking for a job.
Climaco was brought to the United States illegally by his parents when he was 2 years old. His family had lived in Ciudad Nezahualc?otl, a large city on the outskirts of Mexico City that has a significant share of its population living in poverty. His father, a construction worker, came to Santa Rosa for better opportunities, he said.