Deportation fears subside for young Hispanics

(CBS News) SILVER SPRING, Md. - Jorge Acuna's lifelong dream of becoming a neurosurgeon was always clear, but somehow he knew spending six days in a federal detention center wasn't the way to the operating table.

The 19-year-old Montgomery College student and his parents were detained in March, after living illegally in America for more than a decade. As a result of the family's undocumented status, deportation was imminent.

"Those first five nights we ended up being in a maximum security cell for some reason," Acuna told CBS. "I guess that was the worst part of it, because not only did we feel like we were criminals, we felt like the highest end criminals. We never committed any crime."

Uncertain about his future, Acuna feared his education may be lost.

"I was taking 18 credits and all of a sudden, one day I'm in jail," Acuna said. "I'm sitting here in jail, I'm worried about my tests and at one point, I realized, why am I even thinking about this?"

With fervent support from the surrounding community and the help of several prominent politicians, immigration officials granted the Acuna family a one year reprieve, with the understanding that deportation remained a possibility in 2013.

Now, a few weeks after President Obama ordered that more than 800,000 children of illegal immigrants will no longer face the fear of deportation, Jorge Acuna has focused his sights back on his dream.

"It just makes my goals real, where before I just had a sketched up plan of what could happen," Acuna said. "There was always that 'If' - 'If I get deported.' Now that this has happened all the goals are much more attainable."

Details of the administration's new immigration plan are complicated.

Under the policy, children of illegal immigrants can remain in America if they were brought to the country before the age of 16. They must also be under the age of 30, have a clean criminal record, have earned either a high school diploma or G.E.D., served in the military or obtained a two-year work permit, which can be renewed.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., who played an integral role in securing the Acuna family's reprieve, said the president's order is the first step in an ongoing effort to achieve comprehensive immigration reform.

"What it does for kids who have been working hard in our high schools and graduated, they are not subject to being thrown out of the country without any notice," Van Hollen said. "They now have a two year period, sort of a safe harbor period."

However, Van Hollen admitted that more progress can be made.

"The next step would be to try and get a bipartisan piece of legislation on comprehensive immigration reform passed," he said.

Widespread reform was nearly attained in 2010 when the DREAM Act, a bill that would have provided a pathway to citizenship for more than 10 million illegal immigrants, passed in the House of Representatives. The bill later died in the Senate.

The proposed legislation gave a chance for citizenship to any undocumented person who either joined the military or attended college, as long as they fell within age and educational parameters similar to Mr. Obama's new plan.

Martha Sanchez, 17, said that the Hispanic community has waited for an opportunity to rally behind Mr. Obama's immigration policy.

"Promises are made and we have been waiting for them to be fulfilled," Sanchez said. "Now that the president is on track with us and we're on the same page, we are ready to support him as long as he keeps supporting us."

For Acuna, he said perhaps the best part about pursuing of his dream now is the peace of mind that comes along with it.

"Last night I was able to fall asleep and not have to think about [the fear of deportation]," Acuna said. "It feels good, it really does."

There's no better place to dream, he added, than right here, in a country that already means so much.

"This is where I want to live," Acuna said. "This is where I want to have children, this is where I want to practice my profession to save lives and this is where I want to pass away one day."

  • Chad Sinclair

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