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Tucson 'Dreamer' among first to receive work permit

Tucson 'Dreamer' among first to receive work permit

Brought to US at 9, UA science grad now is looking for work

  • Updated

Carlos Martinez went to a UA career fair Thursday to talk to high-tech company recruiters about his dream job. While the University of Arizona computer science and software systems grad had attended similar events, this time it was different.

Martinez had a work permit.

His native country, Mexico, celebrated its Independence Day on Sept. 15. Now the Cholla High Magnet School graduate is celebrating a personal one.

He became one of the first people in the country to receive temporary residency under President Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

"I am going to reach for the sky," said Martinez, 30, who was 9 years old when his parents brought him and his older brother to Tucson from Sonora.

Under the deferred-action directive, which Obama issued in June and which took effect in August, undocumented immigrants who meet specific criteria may pay $465 to apply for two-year residency and a work permit.

As many as 1.75 million people are eligible, the government estimated, but are not guaranteed to receive temporary residency.

Obama's action was met with criticism and opposition, prompting some immigration officers to legally challenge the directive. Arizona governor Jan Brewer announced the state will deny driver's licenses to immigrants who receive deferred action.

But Martinez is undeterred.

The first day that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services began accepting applications, in August, Martinez sent in a small cache of documents.

"I pulled an all-nighter like I used to do in college," said Martinez, who has a master's of science degree.

After only about a month of nervous waiting, Martinez's notice arrived in a pre-dawn text informing him that there was a change in his status.

"I was shaking," he said.

"Your card is in production," said the electronic message.

After several years of waiting, of rising hopes and crashing disappointments, Martinez woke up his mother with the life- changing news.

He told her in Spanish that the card had been approved. They cried, and then she called her husband, who was working.

Later that day the three went to Mission San Xavier to offer prayers of thanks.

"We are very proud of our son and all his efforts, after so many years of struggle. But first we give thanks to God," said Martinez's mother, Sylvia.

Deferred action is not the comprehensive immigration reform that Martinez and his family had hoped for, which could have provided a path to legal residency to his parents. The family will continue to live under the fear that Martinez's parents can be deported if discovered.

His older brother acquired his legal residency through marriage with a U.S. citizen.

In the meantime the Martinez family will celebrate the new development.

Martinez has applied for a Social Security card, even if the clerk accepting his application had not heard of deferred action.

"She was skeptical. I had to explain to her what deferred action was," Martinez said.

With his work permit and Social Security card, Martinez is trying to land a job. He isn't concerned with Brewer's order.

"I'll just move to another state where I can get my driver's license, and I can contribute something positive and pay taxes," Martinez said.

Ernesto "Neto" Portillo Jr. is editor of La Estrella de Tucsón. He can be reached at (520) 573-4187 or at

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