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Young immigrants’ dreams for work  permit, drivers license partially met

Dulce Caballero Aurorapplied for Deferred Actithis year garight stay legally United States work. The 19-year-old Waubonsee Community College student now

Dulce Caballero of Aurora, applied for Deferred Action this year, to gain the right to stay legally in the United States and work. The 19-year-old Waubonsee Community College student, now has a Social Security card, drivers license and a new job. | Steven Buyansky~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 28, 2013 3:31PM

There were days when then-high school student Dulce Caballero and her entire family just stayed home.

“About three years ago, it was on the radio, immigration (Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents) was here in the Mexican grocery stores, in factories where a lot of people worked, for five days,” the Aurora resident said. “I don’t even think I went to school.”

Caballero and her family have been living under the threat of deportation nearly her entire life — until this year, when she, like hundreds of thousands of other undocumented immigrants across the country, applied for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an Obama Administration policy that allows certain young people, with otherwise clean records who are in school or the military, the chance to avoid deportation and work legally in the U.S. for up to two years.

For Caballero, the timing could not have been better.

At 5, she made the journey with her mother and older sister, joining their father who had already been living and working in the U.S. for years. Caballero grew up knowing she was in the country illegally, but she said her immigration status didn’t really affect her until she started looking at colleges. She took honors classes and graduated in the top 10 percent of her class at East Aurora High School, but her prospects for college were bleak.

“It’s been hard to see my friends apply, doing their FAFSAs,” she said of the application forms for college funding assistance. “I tried to go through scholarships, but couldn’t.”
So when Caballero, who is now 19, heard about Deferred Action, she lined up — at 5 a.m. — but was about number 10,001 in line at Chicago’s Navy Pier for the opening of the application process.

“There were about 30 people in line ahead of me when they said ‘no more,’” she said.

She instead applied a few weeks later in Aurora, at a Family Focus event. Just a couple months later, she received a photo ID that authorizes her to work, applied for her Social Security card, then rushed down the Secretary of State’s office for every teen’s rite of passage — a driver’s license.

All her documents look just a little different, she said. Her driver’s license, for instance, is only valid for two years.

Caballero said she’s continuing her studies at Waubonsee Community College, and working in an after-school program, but now is dreaming of something larger — a teaching degree from either Northern Illinois or Aurora University.

While her future looks bright, Caballero said she still worries.

For one, Caballero has a two-year stay of deportation proceedings. After that, she’ll likely have to apply for Deferred Action all over again. Because the policy is neither a law nor an executive order, there’s no telling what might happen in four years’ time.

Caballero said she’s worried, but optimistic.

“It at least gives me time to finish college,” she said. “But if they kicked me out, it would be kicking me out of my home. I grew up here. My memories are here.”

And then there’s her mother.

“We researched it, but there was no way to keep her off my application. Her name was on all my school report cards, everything,” she said.

In 2013, it’s likely her mother, and thousands of other undocumented immigrants throughout Illinois, may be able to at least secure a driver’s license, pending a bill now sitting in a General Assembly transportation committee, but that doesn’t alleviate the fear that her mother could still be deported.

“I’m nervous after those four years, what might happen to us as a family. I have the mindset that we might get kicked out,” Caballero said.

What she really wants, Caballero said, is something more permanent, either a federal DREAM Act or overhaul of national immigration policy that will give her and her family a chance to establish residency and citizenship in the country they’ve called home for more than a decade.

“What we’re waiting for is reform,” Caballero said. “Real, permanent immigration reform.”

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