Selvin Arevalo, 26, moved from Guatemala to Portland when he was 14 to be with his brother and sister. Over the years, he became a respected member of Portland’s Hispanic community. He graduated from Portland High School and is now studying part-time at Southern Maine Community College.

But his future in America is uncertain because he is an illegal immigrant. Later this month, he expects a ruling form an immigrant judge that could lead to his deportation.

But everything for Arevalo changed on Friday when President Barack Obama announced he had eased enforcement of immigration laws for people just like him. Under the administration’s plan, illegal immigrants will be immune from deportation if they were brought to the United States before they turned 16 and are younger than 30, have been in the country for at least five continuous years, have no criminal history, and have graduated from a U.S. high school or earned a GED.

“Actually, this is my only hope,” Averalo said.

The president’s policy change is being hailed as great news by Maine groups that advocate for immigrants.

The policy won’t affect immigrants who came to the U.S. as refugees or have been granted asylum status, but it will nevertheless affect a significant number of people in the state, said Ron Kreisman, executive director of the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project, which provides free and reduced-cost legal aid to immigrants.


He said the policy opens up a future for young people who came to the United States illegally when they were children, at no fault of their own, and now view themselves as Americans.

The only other options for them would be deportation or poverty, he said.

“Do we want to keep these young people — who want to make it in America — in this under-class situation that was not over their making?” he asked.

Many of those young people have become so Americanized that it would be difficult to return to the country of their birth, said Shenna Bellows, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine.

“Deporting young people who have lived in the United States for their entire lives to countries they don’t even know would be cruel,” she said.

Isai Galvez, a young leader at the El Sinai Pentecostal Christian Church in Portland, said that a quarter of children in the church’s youth group are undocumented.

He said police would never give a speeding ticket to children who are only passengers in a car. In the same way, he said, the government should not deport the children of parents who came to the United States illegally.

He said Obama’s policy means that all the children in his youth group will now be able to dream about going to college if they do well in school and build a life for themselves in America.

“What Obama said he will do is huge, especially for the Hispanic community in Maine,” he said.

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