Undocumented students move forward in Idaho

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TWIN FALLS, Idaho (AP) — Sixteen years ago, Yolanda Orozco's family tried a few times to cross the border from Mexico into the United States.

Now, the 22-year-old said memories of those attempts are "like a dream," with certain scenes that come to mind.

Helicopters circling overhead. Being told to hide. Riding in a car with other immigrants, with the drunken driver veering off the road. Reuniting with family members in the United States.

After her family made it across the border, Orozco spent her childhood in Hazelton. After graduating from Murtaugh High School in 2010, she started college.

But as an undocumented immigrant, the future was uncertain.

Orozco applied for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, established in 2012 through President Barack Obama's executive order. It defers prosecution for qualifying undocumented students, allowing them to remain in the United States while pursuing education.

After applying in 2012, getting approval was life changing, Orozco said.

"It shows that everyone has potential and can make a difference in the United States," she said.

But now, Deferred Action is coming under fire as the Obama administration struggles to deal with a flood of more than 57,000 children traveling alone into the United States since Oct. 1.

Most of the children are from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.

Short on votes, House Republicans abruptly abandoned a bill Thursday to address the immigration crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border after last-minute maneuvering failed to lock down conservative support.

And last week, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., called on the Obama administration to "wind down" Deferred Action, which has helped more than 550,000 undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children.

Orozco received her Deferred Action status in November 2012. It expires this November and she'll have to go through a renewal process.

She has been keeping an eye on what's happening with immigration topics — particularly movement on Deferred Action.

"I'm very, very scared," she said.

If Deferred Action ends, Orozco said her dreams would be broken, and she'd feel a lack of identity and hope.

"I have no words to explain what that would do to all the students," she said, adding that Deferred Action has made a huge impact in her life.

She's going into her sophomore year at Boise State University, where she's studying physical education. After graduation, she hopes to return to the Magic Valley to teach.

Mirian Rivas was lying down in the backseat of a car, watching trees pass by for miles after her family crossed the border into the United States. She was about 5 years old at the time.

Her family left Guadalajara, Mexico. After crossing the border into Texas, they headed for Richfield, where family members lived.

At Richfield High, Rivas played basketball and volleyball, was involved in FFA and student council.

After graduating in 2011, she enrolled at the College of Southern Idaho with the goal of becoming a registered nurse. Though CSI allows undocumented students to enroll, they're not eligible for federal financial aid without a Social Security number. Rivas earned a full-ride scholarship for her first year of college through the Hispanic Youth Symposium.

Now, she's done with general education requirements and plans to apply to nursing school, possibly in Boise.

When Rivas applied for Deferred Action, it meant gathering a lot of records. And she paid the $465 application fee. One resource for students is La Posada, a non-profit organization in Twin Falls, which has helped about 200 people apply for Deferred Action.

Now, some people who received approval in 2012 are going through the renewal process, said Maria Aguilar, an immigration assistant with La Posada.

Rivas decided to hire an attorney when she was applying for Deferred Action "in case something went wrong."

Getting help from an attorney can cost anywhere from $700 to $4,000, Aguilar said.

Another challenge is that some students don't have enough evidence — such as medical and school records — to finish the application.

"A lot of it has to do with proof," Aguilar said. After students go through the process — which includes getting fingerprinted — the FBI conducts a background check.

For Orozco, it took about three months to get approval. For Rivas, it took much longer.

She checked on the status of her application every month or two. And as the months dragged on, she started checking more often — about every two weeks.

"The process itself was definitely frustrating and long," she said.

Rivas found out in April she'd been approved. And now, she has a work permit, so she can look for a job.

"Oh, I cried," she said about her reaction to the news. "I just felt this overwhelming weight off my future."

"It's an amazing feeling to know I can move forward with my studies and get a job," she added.

For others applying for Deferred Action, Rivas' advice is to be patient and don't lose faith.

"Once they receive it, it's worth the waiting," she said.

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Information from: The Times-News, http://www.magicvalley.com

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