STOCKTON, CA - America calls itself the "Land of Opportunity," but advocates for Mexican-American families in the San Joaquin Valley say many young illegal immigrants are too afraid to seize any opportunity available for fear of deportation.
Inez Ruiz-Huston, chair for the Coalition of Mexican American Organizations, hopes a change in immigration policy will ease the fears of many undocumented families.
"They have the opportunity for work permits. Now they can be there and work here without the fear of tomorrow being gone," said Ruiz-Huston.
On Friday, President Obama announced a "mend" to his administration's immigration policy. The U.S. will stop deporting children who illegally immigrated to the U.S. before they turned 16 years old. Instead, they will be allowed to apply for two-year work permits if they are under age 30 and have no criminal history.
The change in immigration policy is both lauded and criticized in San Joaquin Valley.
"I don't think it's too fair that citizens and illegals have to compete for the same jobs," said Gwendolyn Perryman, a student at Delta College.
"At least we have one part, the work permits," said Ruiz-Huston.
"But the next step is get financial support for education."
Right now, illegal or undocumented students cannot get financial aid from the state. That will change next year when California's Dream Act takes effect, but Ruiz-Huston said the law is limited and illegal immigrants still will not be allowed to receive loans.
"We're talking about valedictorians, 4.0s - they're being accepted to colleges, but have no financial aid," she said.
First-generation American Sharon Conley said giving some opportunities to illegal immigrant children can still put them in difficult positions with their families. Conley said her legal status often created problems for her illegal immigrant parents.
"Many school functions, even as simple as parent-teacher conferences, they wouldn't show up because what if they got found out," said Conley, who said she was often afraid to do too well in school and at work because it could draw attention to her family.
"What happens to my parents if I do too well? Will I be left without a family?" she said.