For the first time in years, Manuel Bartsch was encouraged about his future as an American when President Obama announced Friday that undocumented, law-abiding immigrants like himself would not face deportation and could apply for work authorization.
"I'm just real excited that they're giving 800,000 undocumented immigrants across the country the opportunity to get a work permit and pursue our education and start our careers," said Mr. Bartsch, 24, a native of Germany who was brought to Putnam County by his grandfather when he was 10. "The only thing we've ever asked for is a path or a way. This is a start. This is the first thing. Hopefully a lot of other things come of this."
At 18, Mr. Bartsch was jailed by immigration officials and was nearly deported. A senior at Pandora-Gilboa High School at the time, he went to Cleveland to try to straighten out his legal status. This spring, he graduated from Heidelberg University in Tiffin, but he still is undocumented. He cannot get a Social Security number or a driver's license or in any way pursue U.S. citizenship.
Although President Obama stressed that his policy was not a path to citizenship, supporters of immigration reform hope it will give Congress time to address the long-simmering problem.
David Leopold, a Cleveland immigration lawyer, said the new order will have direct impact on Mr. Bartsch, whom he represents.
"He's exactly who it will affect. It will give him the ability to sustain himself while the Congress implements immigration reform or considers what to do," Mr. Leopold said. "Basically, what the President has done is exercise the authority given to him by the law to stop the unjust deportation of promising youth while at the same time giving Congress the space to consider permanent fixes to the immigration policy of the country."
Mr. Bartsch is among the thousands of young people referred to as "Dreamers" — undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children, have lived here continuously, gone to school, and lived law-abiding lives but cannot apply for citizenship. Passage of the DreamAct — which stands for Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors — would allow them the opportunity to become citizens.
Under the new directive, Dreamers will be able to get work authorization and pursue a career without fear of deportation, Mr. Leopold said.
"It's not a permanent solution, but it's an interim solution while Congress has the space to work," he said. "It's a game changer and I think politically it's a game changer. I think what the President has done in a broader sense is reached out to the most promising voting bloc in this country, and that's the Latino vote. From a political perspective, it makes total sense."
Mr. Bartsch was one of 35 Dreamers invited to New York City recently to take part in a photo shoot and video produced for this week's edition of Time magazine. His image appears on the cover with the other, mostly Hispanic, faces.
His is a different image and one that, to him, shows Americans that this is "not just a Latino problem. It's an American problem." He said he's encouraged that the President's directive will enable him to do something with his education in the country he considers home.
"I definitely want to start my career and this would be a way in order to do it," Mr. Bartsch said. "I'm excited about it."
U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) called the President's announcement "a helpful step."
"I would prefer that it had been part of comprehensive immigration reform, but that's not going to happen in this Congress," she said. "I think to penalize the youth for something they weren't really responsible for doesn't make sense."
While she supports the President's action, Miss Kaptur voted against the Dream Act in 2010.
"The problem is for me it's just a piece of a much larger set of issues relating to immigration," she said. "We're talking about people who have achieved academically, but we have a problem across this continent due to NAFTA where we have labor being trafficked — both men and women. They're being exploited."
She said that's an issue no one wants to touch.
U.S. Rep. Bob Latta (R., Bowling Green) could not be reached for comment Friday.
U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio) issued a statement critical of the President's remarks.
"Despite promising to address illegal immigration early in his term, the President has failed to lead on yet another important national issue, and is instead resorting to an election-year gambit that provides no certainty to immigrants, employers, and the American people," Mr. Portman said. "The President's job is to build consensus on tough issues, not pick and choose what laws he enforces based on campaign polling data."
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