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3 years after DACA, young immigrants say lives changed, but still uncertain

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Laura Flores, 27, and Chando Kem, 21, both received DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) under President Obama's executive action for undocumented youth. They said that on the three-year-anniversary of the federal program, their lives have changed in big ways.
Dorian Merina / KPCC
Laura Flores, 27, and Chando Kem, 21, both received DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) under President Obama's executive action for undocumented youth. They said on the three-year-anniversary of the federal program that their lives have changed in big ways.

Three years ago this week, the U.S. began granting temporary deportation relief to young undocumented migrants. We look at what's changed.

Three years ago this week, the U.S. began accepting applications for temporary deportation relief for young undocumented migrants. The program, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, allows recipients to work legally and receive funding for education.

"[Getting DACA] has given me a sense of empowerment," said Laura Flores, 27, of La Puente, who before had to take breaks in her education at UC Santa Barbara in order to earn for her tuition. "I don't have to feel stuck in a certain position, that I deserve better. And that I can pursue a masters degree."

To qualify, applicants had to be younger than 31 and to have arrived in the U.S. before turning 16, as of June 2012. By the end of 2013, after its first year of implementation, more than 470,000 young people had already been approved.

But the program was intended to be temporary while Congress worked on more comprehensive immigration reform to address the estimated 11 million undocumented people in the country. That action has not come. With an impending presidential election, and the possibility that support will wane for DACA, or that it could even be repealed, many recipients still face an uncertain future.

"It's definitely a fear," said Chando Kem, 21, from Long Beach, also a DACA recipient. "It's a toss up for this next presidential election and we don't know who we are going to get and if they're going to be immigrant-friendly."

Last year, President Barack Obama signed an expansion of the program for parents of the youth, known as DAPA, or Deferred Action for Parents of Americans or Lawful Permanent Residents, but so far that order has been blocked in federal court.

"Right now, we're trying to just advocate more and keep pushing," said Kem.

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