Over the summer, 17-year-old Richard Mata heard about deferred action, a new program that would allow undocumented young people to work and live in the U.S. legally. When an information session was held in his hometown, Memphis, Tenn., he was the first person to arrive – even before organizers came to set up.
Months later, that enthusiasm has paid off. He was approved for the program this month, and with his work permit in hand, Mata says he can finally move forward to make his dreams come true.
Deferred action, announced in June by the Obama administration, grants a two-year deportation reprieve and work permit to qualifying young applicants. So far, 367,903 people have applied for the program and 102,965 have been approved.
In an interview with ABC/Univision News following Mata's information session, he acknowledged how this would change his life. He vowed to immediately submit an application.
The process was not so simple. It took him five trips to the nearest consulate in Little Rock, Ark., to get all the necessary paperwork.
The cost presented a challenge too. A lawyer ran him about $2,500. Then came the $465 application fee. He worked construction in Alabama with his father to earn what he needed.
"It was quite a new experience because people in Alabama are quite racist," he said. "They see you walk by and it was like something out of the ordinary. I felt like I was being judged."
Back at home, he became the go-to source of information among friends who were interested in applying.
"It felt great," he said. "It felt like people were looking up to me for something positive, something that would change their lives."
One of his closest friends did not apply. Afraid that Mitt Romney might win the elections and reverse deferred action, Mata's friend waited on the sidelines. He plans to apply soon, with Obama back in office.
Finally, after months of anticipation, Mata's application was approved and previously closed doors were opened, just in time for his 18th birthday and the holidays.
Currently, he's studying for his driver's license exam -- Tennessee allows him to apply with his work permit -- and is making plans to go to college. Those are two things he previously thought were out of his reach.
"I feel like there's nothing that can hold me back but myself," he said. "I can begin reaching my goals."