When he was 6 years old in Mexico City, his mother made the decision that she
would illegally bring him into the United States to give him a better life.
Today, as an 18-year-old, Edison High graduate Elioth Gomez will make another
life-changing move as he drives from south Stockton, Calif., to the Bay Area.
He didn't come here by choice when he was 6 years old. But now that he is here, Gomez doesn't want to let paperwork or lack thereof get in the way of the biggest opportunity of his life: going to college at the University of California, Berkeley.
Being an undocumented student comes with the challenge and the hope of one day truly belonging to the country he calls home.
"I am Mexican and I am from Mexico, but I'm more American than anything else," Gomez said. "I got an American education, I watch American TV and I listen to American music. I feel like I am American, even if some people don't think so."
According to the Pew Hispanic Center of the Pew Research Center, Gomez is one of nearly 1.7 million undocumented youths who are now eligible for the Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals form under an executive order from President Barack Obama.
With the application, undocumented youths younger than 31 can receive a two-year deferral from deportation and apply for work permits after proving they arrived in the United States before the age of 16, are not a criminal or security threat and are or were successful students or served in the military.
The process in no way grants amnesty or a path to legal citizenship. With a work permit, however, the young immigrants can obtain a valid Social Security number, open a bank account and apply for a driver's license.
As an undocumented student, Gomez, who has started the deferred action process, said the biggest challenge of trying to go to college is getting financial aid.
According to collegeboard.com, undocumented students cannot legally be granted federally funded financial aid in the form of scholarships, loans, grants or work study. There are some exceptions in some states. The path to finding financial aid and scholarships that can also be awarded to undocumented students is a hard one.
"I worked so hard and I took all these honor and AP classes and I got into a really good university," Gomez said. "But it was hard thinking that I wasn't going to be able to go because of money issues."
It was that fear of not being able to afford college that first got Gomez particularly interested in UC Berkeley. He said that UC Berkeley is known for giving out generous scholarships and financial aid to undocumented students.
After he was not initially accepted by UC Berkeley, Gomez's AP literature teacher at Edison High School, Justin Moeckli, told him he should write a letter and appeal the decision.
"I just kept asking myself, 'What am I going to do? Where am I going to go?' " Gomez said. He knew that affording any other college would be impossible.
Come May, he received the information that UC Berkeley had reversed its decision and he would not only be able to go to his first-choice college but also afford it. He hopes that without fear of deportation for two years, he can continue to find helpful financial aid opportunities.
However, Gomez knows that with an election in November, there is no guarantee that this move toward immigration reform will be implemented for its full two-year span or beyond.
"If Romney gets elected, he can just kick it out," Gomez said. And that, he said, is something he is prepared for. "It's not a permanent thing and I know that. But you can only hope and dream."
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