For a dozen years, Loren Campos said he has worried that U.S. authorities would discover that he is an illegal immigrant and send him back to his native Mexico.
“It’s always been this constant fear of deportation, always trying to stay under the radar, avoid those situations where I might be caught,” said Campos, 23, who lives in Houston with his mother.
Campos said his concerns lifted yesterday when President Barack Obama announced that the U.S. government would end deportations of some illegal immigrants who came to this country as children and make them eligible for work permits.
The policy change affects about 800,000 undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. before age 16, have been in the country for at least five years, have no criminal record and are in school or have a high school diploma or equivalent.
In Texas, 1.8 million of the 25 million residents are undocumented immigrants, said Steve Murdock, a professor at Rice University at Houston and former director of the U.S. Census Bureau. Hispanics make up 38 percent of the state’s population, according to the Census.
“The lives of many families will be less treacherous and more predictable,” Murdock said.
Campos was 11 when his mother, Maria Pinto, moved him and an older sister from Monterrey, in Northern Mexico, to Houston to escape an abusive relationship, he said. Campos arrived on a tourist visa and remained after it expired, he said.
He went to college at the University of Texas at Austin, where professors gave him research work and couldn’t pay him because of his immigration status, he said. Since graduating in May 2011 with a degree in civil engineering, he said he has made money selling beauty products at laundromats, door-to-door and on the Internet.
Campos said he plans to start work in August on a master’s degree at the University of Houston. The policy change will allow him to pursue his career.
“It was this overwhelming sense of relief, just the thought of actually being able to do what I like and feel passionate about: engineering,” Campos said.
His mother, a cafeteria cook at Houston Baptist University, was able to get legal resident status through a daughter who is a U.S. citizen, he said.
“She’s getting ready to become a citizen,” Campos said of his mother, “and she will be voting in November.”
Campos said he has been trying to earn legal status through the same sister, a process that can take 15 years for siblings, he said.
“That’s the reality of what a lot of us have to face,” he said. “We want to follow the law, but the law is broken.”
Adrian Reyna came from Monterrey to Texas at age 11. A decade ago, Reyna’s parents brought him and his younger sister to Humble, a town near Houston, the state’s largest city.
In 2009, he graduated seventh in his high school class and enrolled at the University of Texas in Austin, where he is a senior studying government and political science. He said he wants to get a master’s degree in public affairs and a law degree.
“Under the new guidelines, I will be able to apply for a two-year work permit and get a driver’s license,” he said. “I won’t have to live with the fear of deportation. This is a turning-the-corner moment for me and many others. Finally, I will get to be recognized.”
At American Gateways, an Austin nonprofit that helps indigent immigrants, the policy change will bring relief to many families, said Edna Yang, the organization’s general counsel.
“Some of our clients are young students whose parents are undocumented and brought them over at an early age,” Yang said. “Being able to get deferred action status means they will be able to get jobs.”