FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- Young immigrants are watching the presidential election closely. There’s a lot at stake with two candidates who have widely differing views on the subject of immigration.
For young people who have grown up in the United States without documents, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, allows them to work legally and in some states attend college at in-state tuition rates.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney spoke to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials after President Barack Obama made the executive order.
"Some people have asked if I will let stand the president’s executive order," Romney said. "The answer is that I will put in place my own long-term solution that will replace and supercede the president’s temporary measure."
What will that long-term solution look like? That’s what Josue Saldivar would like to know. He came to the United States with his parents and his two sisters when he was 8, soon after his dad was laid off from a factory job in Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico.
"My parents were just looking for a better future for me and my sisters," Saldivar said.
Saldivar said he didn’t understand what it meant to be undocumented until he started applying to college his senior year of high school.
"And that’s when I realized that although I graduated with a 4.0 GPA, although I was MVP of the cross country and track team, although I was in the National Honor Society, I was vice president of the student council, that wasn’t enough for me to be able to walk through the doors of a university," Saldivar said.
Saldivar, like most other immigrant students, needs financial aid to go to college. Most institutions won’t loan you money if you don’t have a Social Security Number. So for the last four years he’s taken community college classes in business administration. He qualifies for deferred action but he’s worried about applying.
"I kept asking myself am I putting my family at risk? What’s going to happen after I turn in my application?" Saldivar said.
DACA applicants must provide information about their family members to Citizenship and Immigration Services. CIS officials have said the information will only be shared with Immigration Enforcement if the individual has a criminal record.
"The question is not whether the program is eliminated or not," said Luis Fernandez, Director of Sustainable Communities at Northern Arizona University. "The question is what happens to the people who have applied to the program."
Fernandez said he's also worried about DACA applicants under a possible Romney administration.
"Does that mean that hundreds of thousands of people are going to be rounded up and thrown out or does that mean these people will be given another two years?" Fernandez said.
Fernandez and other immigrant advocates have said Romney’s stance on DACA has discouraged some from applying.
Since August about 180,000 people have applied, according to figures published by the Department of Homeland Security. But only about 4,600 deferrals have been approved, because of the avalanche of applications the agency must go through.
Alexandra Samarron would like to apply but she just misses the cutoff age of 15. She was 16 when she came to the United States with her mom.
"You just feel floating because your stuck," Samarron said.
Samarron would like to become a doctor someday and has finished her first two years of undergraduate requirements at a community college. She plans to apply to Northern Arizona University in the spring. But she said it’s exhausting constantly being denied scholarships or loans because you don’t have a Social Security Number. Like many other immigrant students, she’ll take one class at a time.
None of these students see President Obama’s immigration policy as the answer.
"Deferred action is not enough," Samarron said. "Yeah, it’s like one step but even if we get a DREAM Act, what about our parents? Then we get immigration reform but people are going to keep coming so that’s not the end of it."