MIAMI (CBS4) – With tears in their eyes, young undocumented immigrants across South Florida watched President Barack Obama as he promised to stop deporting young people.
“It’s amazing, Oh my God,” said Daniela Pelaez, the 18 year old valedictorian who became the poster child for the issue. “I can’t believe that just happened.”
The government had given Pelaez a two-year reprieve on her deportation, giving her the opportunity to go off to college on a full scholarship. But the victory was bittersweet for her. She had to leave behind the friends who were just like her but lacked the national spotlight.
“A lot of them that are staying here at home while I go off to college,” said Pelaez. “It really hurt me deeply to know that I ‘m getting the chance to go get an education when they’re just as qualified as I am. So now that this is happening, I’m thrilled that they’re going to be able to go and live their lives and accomplish their dreams just like I am.”
20-year-old Tomas Pendola moved to the United States from Argentina a decade ago. He says he considers America his home country.
“My whole important part of my life has been here,” Pendola said.
Pendola is a student at St. Thomas University. He was planning on sleeping in Friday morning, but woke up to phone calls and texts celebrating the news of the policy change.
“It’s a feeling of relief you get when you don’t have to be afraid anymore,” Pendola said.
Until Friday’s announcement, Pendola says he was constantly looking over his shoulder.
“There’s always a fear a state trooper might stop you,” Pendola said. “But now with this it’s great because I can actually work to go to school.”
27-year-old Gaby Pacheco was also thrilled to learn of the executive order.
She is one of the faces of “The Dreamers” in the latest issue of TIME Magazine. Pacheco is on the cover of the magazine along with several other undocumented immigrants. They earned the name ‘The Dreamers” for the Dream Act, a piece of immigration reform legislation Congress failed to pass.
“The potential that I have has been hidden away, has been put away for so long,” Pacheco said. “And finally today, that potential has been able to come out.”
Pacheco’s family is from Ecuador. She lives in Miami, but was in Washington, DC when the announcement was made.
She says the new immigration policy is a step in the right direction, but more needs to be done.
“While we welcome everything President Obama has done today, we know that this is in the hands of Congress.”
It’s an announcement that also made Julio Calderon emotional. He had been struggling to pay out-of-state tuition for college while battling deportation.
“I wanted to be able to have an education and show my parents that I could do it,” said Calderon. “I wanted to be here. That’s why I did it. It was worth it.”
Calderon, Pelaez and many other young undocumented immigrants have been lobbying for change for years now. Their protest cries are now finally reaffirmed by the President’s announcement.
“It’s another great accomplishment,” said Pelaez. “It’s another great day and I’m thrilled. But it doesn’t end here. We need something permanent.”
Many of them are now vowing to continue their fight for themselves and their parents.