President Barack Obama is stopping deportation of some young illegal immigrants who were brought to the country as children.
This decision urges work permits instead of deportation, and will have a direct impact on what activists estimate as 1,000 young illegal immigrants in Arkansas.
Christian Cortes, who was brought to the United States from Mexico when he was seven years old, qualifies for the work permit that must be renewed every two years.
He’s a student at the Northwest Arkansas Community College in Bentonville, pursuing his associate's degree in applied science and computer programming.
"I'm very excited. I'm just happy that I feel that I can actually start my life," Cortes said Sunday.
Obama's announced work permits would be available to those who came to the United States before the age of 16 and have lived in the country for at least five years. They must either be in school, be a high school graduate or have served in the military. They can't have a criminal history and must be under age 30.
Cortes said even though he has family in Mexico, the United States is all he knows. He said until now, he was living in the shadows afraid of deportation.
"It's like, ‘Oh what if they separate us?’ But now it feels good that you can feel safe, and I mean feeling safe is such a human thing that you should feel safe in your own home," Cortes said.
Some local activists who work with students such as Cortes said Obama’s move is a step in the right direction.
Mireya Reith, executive director Arkansas United Community Coalition, said she receives calls from local businesses looking for bilingual workers in fields such as nursing and engineering.
"It's something that is very encouraging and very well needed, and I know our local businesses here in Arkansas, those that have been calling me and asking me for these references, are also going to be taking excitement and knowing that they can offer jobs to these very talented youth," Reith said.
However, not everyone agrees, and some are angry Obama bypassed Congress.
"I feel for them," said Patsy Wootton, director of Conservative Arkansas. They were brought by their parents. They didn't ask to be brought here, they were too young. But, we also have a lot of Americans who have a lot of needs,"
Wootton said the plan doesn't benefit the economy.
"We have a million more that's now been added to people trying to get jobs when we already have high unemployment," Wootton said.
Arkansas legislators weighed in on Obama’s announcement.
U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, a Republican, released the following statement:
“The president acknowledged that America is a nation of laws; however, his actions serve to undermine the very laws enacted by Congress on immigration—just as he has with recess appointments, matters of national security, and the number of questionable decisions by agencies subject to his authority.”
Rep. Sen. John Boozman released this statement:
“Once again, President Obama has ignored Congress, the will of the American people and our legal system in an effort to win political points. Serious immigration reform is long overdue, but this is not reform. Instead it is a huge step backwards. I intend to fight this misguided, partisan move by the president,” Boozman said.
As for Christian Cortes, he said he can now reach his full potential.
"I feel like I can contribute back to Springdale, to.. the United States all that I've learned so far. I've gathered and made so many connections and now I feel like I can use them all and give back as much as I can," he said.
The work permit will have to be renewed every two years. The Obama administration is expected to come out with the application and steps to complete the process in the next couple of months.