It's a program that's been called controversial and a political ploy. It's also described as life changing. The first wave of illegal immigrants who applied for deferred action under President Barack Obama's policy are receiving their papers to stay.
Karen Vigueras is at the center of the controversy. She is one of only a handful of applicants in the state who has been granted permission to stay in the United States legally.
"This is my first day of school here in the United States and it just happened to be picture day," Vigueras said as she pointed to a picture.
Vigueras was old enough to remember crossing the border from Mexico to the U.S. As an eight-year-old she couldn't grasp the enormity of the life change happening around her.
"I just remember coming with my mother in a car, that's about it. I was just actually most anxious because my father was actually here first and as a kid, you miss your dad," Vigueras said.
Vigueras and her mom reunited with her dad and brother. Her sister eventually followed. Soon after her Quinceanera, or coming of age ceremony at 15, she realized being from Mexico meant she was different.
"I started asking myself why I couldn't do the same things, and you start working your mind," Vigueras said.
She learned she and her family were living in the U.S. illegally.
"I knew what the word meant but I didn't know the whole definition of it," Vigueras said.
Vigueras hit a speed bump a year ago. That's when she had a car accident and was arrested for driving without a license. With it came the constant fear of being deported.
"I would think about that all the time and I didn't want to think about it, but it's constantly in the back of your mind like a ticking clock," Vigueras said.
Hope came in June when Obama announced a policy to protect those brought illegally into this country as children. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA allows some to apply for a 2-year break from fear of prosecution.
"There are challenges, but I guess it makes me value more that I'm here and value more the opportunities that I'm getting to where if I were just handed it," Vigueras said.
She put together a lifetime of documents to apply. Kuck Immigration Partners met with and filed more than 350 applications on behalf of clients who hope to be approved for deferred action. So far, 10, including Vigueras, received a letter, getting the green light.
"This is us saying there is a group of people here we not only believe will never leave, but shouldn't leave and we want them here, and we're going to take affirmative steps to make sure they have the ability to succeed," attorney Charles Kuck said.
One piece of paper changed Vigueras' life.
"I didn't really get the weight of the situation, like how much my life was going to change in such a short amount of time," Vigueras said.
The 21-year-old got a social security number, and work permit. Vigueras put off college but now plans to apply. The emotion of finally feeling like she belongs overwhelms her.
"It's a lot to put in words I guess," Vigueras said.
Close to 5,000 of the almost 180,000 who have applied have been approved.
Not everyone agrees with the program and the opportunities being given. Governor Nathan Deal asked Attorney General Sam Olens to find out if Georgia had to allow people to get a drivers license.
Olens responded in a letter saying, "While I do not agree with the actions of the President in issuing the directive, it has been implemented by the Department of Homeland Security, USCOS, and state law recognizes the approval of deferred action status as a basis for issuing a temporary driver's license or identification card."
Georgia Congressman Rob Woodall has been outspoken on the issue. He believes we need immigration reform but said this was not the right way.
"I call it the wrong idea at the wrong time. We have 50-percent of our college graduates who can't find work. The President has not only been unsuccessful in bringing down unemployment, he now wants to offer a brand new class of work opportunity. Do we have to solve these issues? Absolutely, but we have to do it in cooperation with one another," Woodall said.
Copyright 2012 WGCL-TV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.
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