Gerardo spent the summer of 2013 going through his files, making sure he had every school record, every mortgage statement, every credit document meticulously in order.
The restaurant chef and father of four U.S.-born children arrived here more than 20 years ago — too late for amnesty. In his 40s by the time deferred action rolled around in 2012, he was too old for that. (We are not using his last name; he agreed to speak with KPCC if we protected his identity.)
His hope, at the time, was the immigration reform bill that had just cleared the Senate would make it through Congress and become law. It didn’t happen.
Then Thursday evening, as he watched President Obama’s immigration speech at home, everything changed.
“I just jumped out of the sofa," Gerardo said. "This is something I have been waiting for, for so many years. And now we can see the light at the end of the tunnel, finally.”
Among the immigrants who will qualify for temporary relief from deportation under Obama's executive order are people like Gerardo and his wife: parents of U.S. Citizens or legal residents who have lived here five years or more.
Also protected will be immigrants who arrived as children before the start of 2010, regardless of their age now.
It's estimated that millions could qualify for temporary legal status and work permits through Obama's executive action, which protects immigrants from deportation but does not provide a path to U.S. citizenship. In California, where an estimated 83 percent of the unauthorized immigrants have lived for five years or more, the effect could be widespread.
But many young people still won’t qualify. Twenty-seven-year-old Fifita, a mechanical engineering student, came from Tonga in 2006 — just after she turned 18. That makes her too old to qualify for deferred action. She didn’t watch the speech, fearing bad news.
“I didn’t want to listen to it myself," she said. "I just wanted to let someone else tell me.”
She says she’ll keep waiting for Congress to pass a bill. As for those who could qualify for temporary relief, it's not expected they'll be able to apply until the spring.