Jesus Larios has big plans for his life.
The 19-year-old Pasco man is studying electrical engineering and biology, with an eye toward becoming a bioengineer, at Columbia Basin College, where he ran unsuccessfully for student body president last year.
He's ambitious and working hard to get his education.
He also is in the United States illegally.
Larios is one of an estimated 30,000 undocumented immigrants in Washington -- 1.2 million in the nation -- who will qualify for a new immigration program that's designed to help immigrants up to age 30 who were brought here by their parents as children.
Application forms are available online and can be submitted starting today.
Because of his illegal status and his inability to get a Social Security number, Larios said it's been tough for him to find steady work instead of odd jobs, or to qualify for financial aid for school.
"Luckily I got some scholarships," he said.
But he anticipates many opportunities will open up for him if he qualifies for the "Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals" program announced by President Obama in June.
The program doesn't grant legal status, but it temporarily removes the threat of deportation for those who qualify, and it allows them to have a work visa, which in turn allows them to get a valid Social Security number.
"First of all, I can actually get a job -- a nice job," Larios said. "I can get a job at school. I wasn't able to do that before. ... After I'm done with school, I can actually work in the field (I'll) spend four or five years studying. That's the whole goal -- to get a good job. Without this, I wouldn't be able to do that."
But immigration lawyer Tom Roach of Pasco cautioned that for people who don't qualify, applying for the program could be risky.
"There's a lot of people I've talked to I've recommended they don't apply," Roach told the Herald. "They'd be paying good money to be put into the deportation process. Three misdemeanors and you're out. One DUI and you're out. Tattoos that might suggest gang involvement and you're out."
Roach said the program's rules are complicated, and people considering making an application should get some professional advice.
"It's not black and white," he said. "A lot of people have difficulty understanding the dangers. There are some risks associated with this program."
Nonetheless, he welcomes the program as a good step toward more comprehensive immigration reform.
"I have been waiting 10 years for this," he said. "This is the biggest thing to happen in the arena of immigration law in 26 years, since the amnesty in 1986."
Undocumented residents can apply for the program if they were under 31 on June 15, came to the United States before their 16th birthday, have continuously lived in the country since June 15, 2007, and had illegal status as of June 15 of this year, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website.
The program also requires that applicants be a current student, have graduated from high school or obtained a GED, or be an honorably discharged military or Coast Guard veteran.
And they can't have a conviction for a felony, significant misdemeanor, three or more other misdemeanors, or pose a threat to national security or public safety.
"This is for the kids who got brought in by their parents," Roach said. "They have no culpability. They have no criminal problems. They finished high school or got their GED. They're the future of America -- they just don't happen to be legal."
Roach will be on-hand tonight at a town hall meeting in Kennewick put on by activist group One America, where he'll answer questions about the program and who should apply.
Jazmin Santacruz, One America's Eastern Washington organizer, said she encourages parents to come, as well as young people.
The meeting is free, and while One America can't help fill out paperwork, they can direct people toward groups offering free legal advice on the applications.
The meeting is at 6 p.m. at St. Joseph's Catholic Church, 520 S. Garfield St., Kennewick.
The application forms are available at http://bit.ly/citizenshipandimmigration.
-- Michelle Dupler: 582-1543; firstname.lastname@example.org