TAMPA - Jassiel Perez didn't have a choice when he came to the United States. His family brought him here when he was two months old.
The son of Mexican parents, the 21-year old has spent two decades living much like any other American. The biggest difference for him: He isn't one.
"I just want that chance," said the aspiring web programmer, who is currently working in a union as an intern.
Perez said he was devastated in 2010 when congress failed to pass the DREAM Act, a law that would have allowed illegal residents a path to citizenship.
"I just lost all hope," Perez said. "I thought I was finally going to be like the rest of my friends. Go to college. You know, just be normal," he said.
But the Homeland Security department issued an order June 15 allowing illegal immigrants to stay in the country legally under certain conditions:
- Arrived in the U.S. before the age of 16.
- No criminal record.
- Under 30 years of age.
- Earned a high school diploma or military service.
Those who qualify can stay legally for two years, and will be eligible to earn a work permit. Called "deferred action," the federal government estimates 1.8 million people are eligible for the program.
Those illegal immigrants must submit evidence of their status to the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services office, and proof may include a series of power bills and proof of paying rent.
Still, one concern that's always haunted undocumented residents is the fear of deportation.
Jacky Cruz, co-founder of the group United We Dream Tampa Bay, said she hopes people who have earned this opportunity contact her organization so they can file the necessary paperwork.
Cruz said many illegal residents are often apprehensive. "It's very stressful. It's a really hard way to live life, in fear," she said. "We are a family. We look out for one another," Cruz said.
Veronica Perez said her family came from Mexico when she was nine years old. She said they did so because they were afraid of getting killed. Her father had already moved to the U.S. and was sending back money. When word spread among the locals, they tried to burglarize their home.
"We were planning to get the visa and try to come here legally," Perez said. "Since all the crimes were going on, we were scared for our lives," she said.
Since the Obama administration enacted deferred action, the policy has come under fire from Republicans, including Florida's junior senator Marco Rubio. He called the order a misguided temporary fix that doesn't solve the long-term problem.
With the Republican National Convention just days away, many of the delegates descending upon Tampa have strong opposition to any solution to illegal immigration other than deportation.
Teresa Contreras, a legal resident who volunteers with United We Dream Tampa Bay, is well aware of the immigration views of the current presidential candidates. Contreras has participated in demonstrations in support of the Dream Act and deferred action.
She's not optimistic about changing the minds of many in the GOP who are firmly against allowing illegals a path to citizenship, other than through traditional means.
"It's really tough with them, the Republican party," Contreras said. "But we're going to keep fighting. This isn't going to stop."
For information about how to file paperwork for deferred action, United We Dream Tampa Bay has a hotline number: (813) 421-4188.
Copyright 2012 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
A warm and humid day with sun, clouds and a chance for showers and storms mainly in the afternoon. Storms won't be as numerous as yesterday.