Immigration law will help undocumented students

  • Jose Torres, right, works on a project in an accounting class at Sonoma State University on Thursday, September 13, 2012. Torres, an undocumented immigrant brought to the U.S. as a child, will benefit from the Obama Deferred Action policy.

For some, it has become one of those life-defining moments, the ones where you remember the exact time and date, where you were and what you were doing. For Jose Torres, 25, of Rohnert Park, it was 8:30 a.m. June 15.

Torres, a Sonoma State University student who has been living illegally in the United States for about a decade, was at work when his mother called him from Mexico. She said she saw a news report about a new program that offers undocumented students the chance to work legally in the United States.

After years of struggling to pay for college and helping his family in Mexico by working odd jobs and night shifts, Torres long had feared he was about to run into a dead-end. Even though he is set to receive a bachelor's degree in accounting next year, he had little hope of landing his dream job because he is an undocumented immigrant, without a Social Security number.

"I laughed. I said, 'Mom, don't joke with me,' " Torres recalled. "I told her, 'That's not going to happen. It won't happen.' She said, 'Well, you have a computer in front of you, why don't you look it up.' "

He looked it up and cried.

Three months later, Torres is one of almost 83,000 undocumented young people vying for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a new immigration initiative that will temporarily allow those who qualify to go to school and work without fear of being deported.

Since June when the program was announced by President Barack Obama, local immigration advocates and nonprofits that provide immigration assistance have been swamped with requests for help.

<b>'Ringing off the hook'</b>

At Catholic Charities in Santa Rosa, which operates an immigration services program, "the phone has been ringing off the hook," said Mary Lowe, the nonprofit's naturalization representative.

About 150 people are on a waiting list seeking assistance with the application process, although some have likely found help elsewhere, Lowe said. The entire staff of Catholic Charities' immigration services program has been working with clients, helping them through the procedure.

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