Atlanta – Two Hispanic teens are celebrating their first day of freedom after becoming the first beneficiaries in Georgia of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's decision to review deportations on a case-by-case basis.
Luis Hernandez, 18, and Pedro Morales, 19, were released Tuesday night and their deportation cases thrown out after they were arrested earlier in the summer for traffic violations.
Both young men were arrested at different traffic checkpoints in the early part of the summer and since then they have been held at the Stewart Detention Center in the southern part of the state.
Both Hernandez and Morales came to Georgia with their parents when they were children and neither has a previous criminal record.
"I'm very happy because now I'm going to be able to continue studying (in) my last year of school and continue working like before," Hernandez told Efe.
He expressed his relief at not having been deported to his native Mexico, a country he said he doesn't know and where he has barely any family and no friends to turn to for help.
"I wouldn't have known what to do if they had deported me. I only have my grandmother there to help me," he said.
Relatives of Morales admitted that they are still assimilating the news of his release and they said they were hopeful that this opportunity will allow him to continue with his "dreams and plans," which were interrupted with his arrest and subsequent detention.
"I hope to God that he takes advantage of the opportunity they gave him and continues forward so that he can succeed," Pedro Morales's same-named father told Efe.
Pedro the younger, who was on the verge of beginning his mechanics studies at Northwestern Technical College before his arrest in June, came from Mexico to the United States with his parents at the age of 7.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement halted the deportation process for the young men because both cases met the new deportation priorities that federal authorities now abide by.
DHS last week announced changes in their deportation policy which would now give priority in deportation to immigrants who have committed serious crimes and would require individual reviews of the cases of people who do not represent a danger to society.
Before the announcement of the change in the deportation policy, pro-immigrant activists staged protests in Atlanta and other U.S. cities to demand that President Barack Obama halt the deportations of undocumented immigrants through the Secure Communities program.