Luis Roch couldn't have been more prepared. The 20-year-old's documents were in order and he had been saving up extra cash. Roch had a final date on his calendar to meet with his attorney on the first day that enrollment opened. The last item to check off: Head to a drugstore photo booth and take a passport-sized photo of himself.
"I was completely ready -- completely ready," Roch stressed Tuesday. "I had an appointment with my attorney to turn in my application papers, and all of the things I needed to prepare."
He had been prepared for years. Roch first began assembling his application -- gathering school records, digging up his birth certificate, raising money -- since 2012, when President Obama unveiled the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA. For the first time, young immigrants who were brought to the U.S. before they were 16 years old and met a series of requirements were eligible to lawfully remain in the country, apply for work permits and even apply for driver's licenses.
Roch hoped to be one of the first in line to apply for DACA -- but then he spotted one small, yet significant technicality. Only DREAMers who have lived in the U.S. continuously since June 15, 2007 were eligible to apply. He missed the cutoff by less than two months.
Wednesday was supposed to be Roch's second chance. He didn't qualify the first time around, but a new expansion of the DACA program under Obama's recent round of executive actions meant Roch could finally apply. And this time, the stakes were higher. Roch's younger brother planned on submitting an application, too. Later in the spring, both his mom and dad would become eligible for a similar program opening up to undocumented parents of U.S.-born children.
But for a second time, Roch's hopes were dashed. A federal judge in his home state of Texas decided Monday to place a temporary halt on the application process while 26 states push a lawsuit to bring down the president's executive actions. Even if the actions weather the legal challenges, it may take weeks, perhaps months, before Roch could apply. In the meantime he must wait.
"I'm disappointed, sad, because I have nowhere to go," Roch said. "I can’t go back to my country. I believe this is my hometown -- San Antonio is my home."
DACA changed the lives of an entire generation of undocumented immigrants who are so rooted in American society that it's the only home they say they have ever known. The program allowed DREAMers to attend college, seek better-paying jobs and open their first bank accounts. More than 600,000 undocumented immigrants have taken advantage of the program since it began. And more than 4 million additional people would likely qualify under the president's new executive measures.
Camila Trujillo planned on getting a money order ready Tuesday for her application fee before she heard the news of the judge's decision. It had taken her weeks to track down proof of her birth in Colombia, and even more time to get those documents translated. Trujillo had been working on and off as a waitress for the last four years to put herself through college. For her, the DACA expansion meant a chance to find a better job and build a resume for a strong career.
"It’s not being afraid anymore. It’s being able to drive, to not be scared to be pulled over," Trujillo said. Over the last several weeks she attended info sessions held by local advocates to walk her and her sister through the process, so that they could later help their mother apply to DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans) later on in the spring. "We have a little sister, we know she needs us here."
The Obama administration plans to appeal the judge's ruling to move the program forward as planned. In the meantime, Obama is urging for families not to be discouraged by the lawsuit and to continue gathering materials for once the application process eventually begins.
“I think the law’s on our side, and history’s on our side,” the president said Tuesday. “For those now wondering whether or not they should apply, we are going to refer those questions to DHS that’s already begun planning and we’ll be prepared to implement this fully as soon as legal issues resolved.”
Trujillo said a silver lining of the tumultuous immigration policy debate is that the application process has brought her family closer as they do all they can to prepare, and ultimately wait for a final answer.
"We were frustrated at the beginning," Trujillo said. "But I know it’s going to pass and I know we’re going to be protected."