As two of his first-grade pals giggled excitedly and put their arms around him, 6-year-old Eric Moreno turned to his mother and wondered what all the fuss was about.
"You don't know what any of this means, do you?" Marcy Moreno asked of her slightly perplexed adopted son.
"Uh-uh," Eric replied, a sheepish grin breaking between his quickly reddening cheeks.
"Yes, you do. What does this mean?" Marcy Moreno asked, showing Eric his temporary residence card granting him amnesty in the United States.
"It means I can be an American citizen," Eric said offhandedly as his mother laughed at his indifference.
Words like amnesty, illegal alien, application and deportation don't mean a thing to Eric.
But to Eric's mother, a North Broadway Elementary School teacher, and his father, Mike, who teaches at Escondido High School, his temporary amnesty is cause for celebration.
Entered U.S. Illegally
Eric Moreno was brought across the border illegally by his adoptive parents when he was 2 days old. Now, six years later, he is the first person to be granted temporary amnesty at Escondido's legalization office.
The small laminated card Marcy Moreno now possesses with her son's name on it means that she and her husband are one step closer to finally getting him permanent citizenship status.
When that happens--in three to five years, according to law--it will close a chapter in the Morenos' lives that began with a search for a little boy they could bring to their home.
Before journeying to Tijuana in their search, the Morenos had tried to adopt in the United States but "the waiting lists were about two or three years long," Marcy Moreno said.
A family friend recommended an attorney in Tijuana who could help them adopt a child. Soon thereafter, the Morenos were told about Eric.
"He was born at noon and the lawyer called us at 4 to pick him up," she said.
The next day, after Eric's natural mother had signed papers relinquishing custody of the child, the Morenos brought Eric back to Escondido.
They also adopted Eric legally in Mexican courts.
In 1985, the Morenos filed immigration papers for Eric, but until this week they still had not been processed, Marcy Moreno said.
Because of the slowness of the immigration system, the Morenos decided to try the new amnesty law. In one fell swoop, Eric was processed Tuesday afternoon.
Zipped Through Paper Work
"The people there (at the Escondido legalization office) were amazed that I filled out all the paper work on the same day," Marcy Moreno said.
After appearing early Tuesday morning, she came back in the afternoon with the paper work completed and Eric in tow.
Moreno said she and her husband were never really worried by the reality that Eric was an illegal alien.
"Although it did bother my mother," she said.
Officials from the Mexican Embassy in Los Angeles and the Morenos' attorney had told the couple not to worry about their son being taken away from them.
"We legally adopted Eric, and our lawyer told us that the state of California recognizes Mexican adoptions," Marcy Moreno said.
In fact, Eric's illegal alien status had become a family joke.
"Whenever we would go to the border, Lonnie (Eric's 20-year-old brother, who also was adopted) would say, 'Duck, Eric,' " she said.
The Morenos will now file for permanent residency for their son, who they hope will be a citizen by his 12th birthday.
For the moment, Eric has other things to worry about.
"He's got a spelling test," Marcy Moreno said.