JACKSON HEIGHTS, Queens – For residents living in the most diverse boroughs in New York City, President Obama’s new immigration policy is a sigh of relief.
Undocumented immigrants who arrived in the country before turning 16 and who meet certain requirements will no longer have to fear the threat of deportation. They must have lived in the country for five straight years, have no criminal history, graduated from high school or earned a GED, or served in the military. Those who meet the standards are also eligible for a 2-year work permit with no renewal limit. The policy does not extend to individuals older than 30 years old.
“That’s good, it’s very good, are you serious?,” said Andres Echeberri, 31, surprised to hear the news.
Echeberri, of Jackson Heights, immigrated from Columbia four years ago. Although Echeberri has a United States Permanent Resident Card (green card), he said many young immigrants are not so fortunate.
“People that have been here for many years, they are from here,” Echeberri said. “They are young people, they went to high school here, they don’t know their [birth] countries.”
Cruz Huerta, a 17-year-old high school junior from Corona, immigrated with his family from Mexico when he was six. For Huerta, the eleven years he has spent living in the U.S. has made Mexico feel more like a foreign land.
“They’re both my countries but mainly it’s this one,” said Huerta. “It’s been my childhood, my teenage years, and I guess for the rest of my life.”
Huerta, a legal citizen, has aspirations of going to college after he graduates high school next year. With an interest in studying law, he recognizes what the new policy means for young immigrants who wish to further their education.
“It gives the students who actually want to keep on going, move on to a better life, a better job, the dream their parents always wanted to have they can have with the policy Obama just passed,” Huerta said.
Queens has been Huerta’s home for much of his life, but he still keeps with Mexican culture in at least one way. Walking down Northern Boulevard on the hot afternoon in a tuxedo, Huerta had a guitar strapped to his shoulder. He plays in a Mariachi band— carrying on a musical tradition that has been around for more than 100 years, he said.
Photo submitted by angeliki jackson on Instagram