Undocumented residents celebrate immigration plan

TAMPA - She's 21 years old today, but she's hidden a secret from her friends since she was four.

"I don't tell them.  If they don't ask me, I don't say nothing," she said. "I try to hide it."

She asked not to be identified because the state currently has no record she is living and working in the Tampa Bay area. 

"I've been here all my life. I don't know how Mexico looks, because I've never been there," she said. "I was four years old when they brought me."

Brought here from Mexico in the back of a car, she's now one of the 11 million undocumented residents in the United States.

"She has no chance.  None of her parents are US citizens.  None of her brothers are US citizens.  She has no one who is a US citizen," said Jose Fernandez with Catholic Charities. "The only way she can benefit is if this reform is approved."

Fernandez is referring to Monday's announcement by the so-called "Gang of 8," a bi-partisan group of senators, including Marco Rubio, that has developed a comprehensive immigration reform plan.

The reform, if passed by Congress, would allow undocumented residents to apply for probationary status, pay a fine, and then apply for citizenship. In the meantime, they would no longer face fear of arrest or deportation unless they commit a crime.

"Even though it's going to be hectic for us, we welcome it because it's good for our community," Fernandez said.

Fernandez and Catholic Charities work with about 1,500 undocumented residents every year. He estimates somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 live and work in the Tampa Bay area, though many are seasonal. Unless they have a familial tie to US citizenship, Fernandez says they have no chance at citizenship themselves.

No.  Period," he said. "You have to have ties here."

The 21-year old Tampa woman's mother is undocumented, as are her brothers. She is considered a DREAMer, someone brought to the US as a minor, and thereby subject to less strict regulations under legislation passed by President Obama.

Still, she can't go to college without a social security number, even if she graduated from a local high school.

"It will be easier for us," she said. "We will feel safe now."

She works in a restaurant, but really wants to be a surgical technician, and perhaps finally have the life her mother always hoped she would.

"Go to school, get a better career, better life here than my own country,"  she said. "Just because we're not documented doesn't mean we're bad people. We're the same like you guys. We just don't have the social security or anything like that. We're regular people."

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