"We are Americans," declared Nicaraguan immigrant Rommel… (Matea Gold / Los Angeles…)
WASHINGTON -- As President Obama spoke in the Rose Garden on Friday, a jubilant tableau played out in front in the White House gates as a few hundred young people -- several of them who said they were facing the prospect of deportation -- celebrated his decision to give immunity to young illegal immigrants. Cheers and chants of “Si, se puede!” (“Yes, we can!) blared across Pennsylvania Avenue.
"I thank God," Jorge Steven Acuña, a 19-year-old from Germantown, Md., told the crowd. "This morning was something out of a movie. My friend called me and said, 'Did you hear the news?' This is the beginning of something greater. We're not going to stop until we get that Dream Act passed. We're not going to stop until we get everyone safe."
Acuña is a freshman at Maryland's Montgomery College who came to the United States with his family from Colombia when he was 8. He was arrested with his parents in March. He and his family spent six days in jail and faced deportation, until their story galvanized activists and local officials.
Immigration officials eventually agreed to postpone their expulsion for a year so Acuña, who wants to become a neurosurgeon, could finish his associate's degree.
"Today's news -- they saved my life," Acuña said in an interview. "Something like this allows me to keep going. This is everything I prayed for. My mom cried about it, my dad cried about it. I went to church and prayed about it. When I found this out, it’s like, finally -- it’s not over, but it’s a start."
The largely Latino crowd waved hand-lettered signs that read "Obama We Are The Future" and "You Got My Vote Now" as speakers testified emotionally in Spanish and English about the impact of president's decision.
"My mother woke me up early and said, 'Mijo, turn on the television!'" said a 20-year-old Mexican immigrant named Jesus wearing a blue graduation cap, who declined to give his last name. "I was like, 'Whoa, is this true?' I had to pinch myself."
"Here we are, and we aren't going anywhere," said Rommel Sandino, 27, a youth organizer who came from Nicaragua when he was 4 and recently achieved residency. "We are Americans!"