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Pursuing the dream

When President Barack Obama signed the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, he could have had Yaremi Mejia in mind.

The South Medford High School basketball standout came to the United States from Mexico with her parents when she was 6; she's been here ever since. She enrolled in the fifth grade at Oak Grove Elementary School when her family moved to Medford from Los Angeles.

Her attorney, Josh Medina of the Center for Non-proft Legal Services, says, "She is as American as anyone else."

She's certainly more American than Mexican, having spent most of her life here. And now she's a legal resident, thanks to the federal program and the assistance of Legal Services, which operates in part on donations from local attorneys, a larger percentage of whom contribute than in any other county in the state.

Mejia was among the first applicants under the Deferred Action program, which began accepting applications in August 2012. A little more than a year later, more than 455,000 young people like her had been approved for legal residence.

In Mejia's case, that means she can accept the full-ride scholarship she was offered to attend Portland State University, majoring in criminal justice with a minor in psychology. And she can do so without looking over her shoulder and fearing arrest and deportation.

Her legal status is not permanent, however, and the prospects of citizenship for her and other young people in her situation are uncertain. The Dream Act, which would have allowed undocumented young people to become citizens, failed in the Senate in 2010; another bill passed the Senate last year but the House did not take it up.

The issue of undocumented immigrants living and working in the United States is politically controversial. Approximately 11 million people are estimated to be here illegally, presenting a logistical nightmare if the government were to attempt to find and deport them all.

The issue isn't going anywhere. One potential Republican candidate for president, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, made national headlines during an event at his father's presidential library in Texas on Sunday when he said many immigrants who came here illegally to benefit their families were committing "an act of love."

Regardless of the motives of the parents, it's hard to justify punishing children brought here very young and raised as Americans by denying them the opportunity to be contributing members of society. In Mejia's case, it's clear she grew up with a well-developed sense of right and wrong. She wants to become a police officer.