Posted Online: Nov. 03, 2012, 5:52 pm

Path to citizenship: Q-C youths take advantage of new immigration program

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By Stephen Elliott,

More photos from this shoot
Photo: Todd Mizener
Manuel Contreras, 18, of East Moline, is one of the first Quad-Citians who qualified for deferred action for a period of two years. Earlier this summer, President Barack Obama authorized deferred action for undocumented young people who came to the Untied States as children. They have to meet several qualifications to apply for the program.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: John Greenwood
Ana Raquel Montes Medina, 19, of Moline, displays her new Deferred Action employment authorization card she just received. She is one of the first Quad-Citians who applied for the Deferred Action card. On June 15, President Obama announced new criteria for a new immigration policy, referred to as deferred action, that lets undocumented youth qualify for temporary legal status and be eligible for a work permit.

Manuel Contreras, 18, of East Moline, is attending Black Hawk College and one day wants to be an emergency medical technician and, ultimately, a paramedic.

Ana Raquel Montes-Medina, 19, of Moline, wants to attend college and find a career.

They are among the first noncitizen residents in the Quad-Cities who have been approved for the new deferred action program, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

On June 15, President Barack Obama announced criteria for the new immigration policy related to people who came to the United States as children.

To date, nearly 4,600 people across the country have been approved for the program, which lets undocumented youth qualify for temporary legal status and be eligible for a work permit.

Young men and women, such as Mr. Contreras and Ms. Montes-Medina, who arrived in the United State before they were 16 years old and were younger than 31 as of June 15 can get a two-year extension of their stay in the country under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals process.

There are qualifications they have to meet for DACA approval, including no felony convictions and continuously living in the U.S. for at least five years, but the essence is young adults who qualify won't be deported.

Many applicants in the Quad-Cities, such as Mr. Contreras and Ms. Montes-Medina, came to the U.S. from Mexico as children and attended schools in the Quad-Cities. They consider America their home, according to Casa Guanajuato executive director Michael Woods.

The Moline organization provides assistance to thousands of Latino and other immigrant communities throughout the Quad-Cities. Mr. Woods said Casa has processed more than 100 applications for deferred action with more applications on the way.

"This speaks primarily to the Mexican population and other South Americans," Mr. Woods said. "However, there could be others.

"For example, there are 40,000 undocumented Irish in this country. So, Mexicans aren't the only folks undocumented. This (deferred action) can also speak to other youth who have been here but their visas have lapsed from other countries."

The policy, implemented by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, has drawn about 1 million applicants nationwide, Mr. Woods said.

"It doesn't mean a pathway to citizenship, but it's a pathway to progress," he said. "That's an important part of this program for a lot of youths. They've been educated here, and, after graduation, many of them find it hopeless.

"Now, for many, it gives them an opportunity, a dream."

Ms. Montes-Medina has lived in America since she was 4. She went to Willard Elementary, John Deere Middle School and Moline High School. Her parents, Aurello and Ana Maria, own the Los Montes Restaurant at 2006 16th St. in Moline.

"I live with my parents still," she said. "My dad was helping me out through the whole thing.

"I would like to become a citizen one day. Basically, my home has been here since I was 4."

Ms. Montes-Medina said her letter came last week from the Department of Homeland Security verifying she had received DACA approval.

"I was really thrilled," she said. "It was a day after my birthday."

Ms. Montes-Medina is now trying to obtain a Social Security card. Mr. Contreras received his in the mail last week.

"I think this will help us," Mr. Contreras said of deferred action. "It's going to give us opportunities. We can start building up our lives, especially the younger people.

"That's a good way to start it."

Mr. Woods said immigration reform has many questions that need to be answered. For now, the deferred action program brings them some consistency, he said.

"There are a lot of unknowns," Mr. Woods said. "If we invest in the people, the people buy goods and they stimulate the economy.

"That's what immigration reform does.These kids, they're truly American in so many ways."

To meet the growing demand for interested applicants, Casa Guanajuato Quad Cities, 525 16th St., Moline, is holding a deferred action workshop from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 10.

Casa is in need of 35 volunteers to assist. Volunteers would need to arrive by 8 a.m. 

For further information, contact Casa at 309-736-7727 or email executive director Michael Woods at