This is the stuff that dreams are made of. Last month, Manuel Bartch was on top of the world, having just graduated from Heidelberg University with a bachelor’s degree in political science. But his celebration was tempered because his status as an undocumented immigrant prevented him from looking for work.
Last week, however, a policy decision that came down from President Obama will halt deportation proceedings of some 800,000 immigrants and will allow them to apply for work authorization.
“It’s definitely a move forward,” said Bartsch, 24. “I got pretty emotional when I heard.”
Bartsch’s story is well documented. At age 10, his grandfather brought him to northwest Ohio. While a senior in high school, he was jailed and nearly deported back to his native Germany when he went to Cleveland to try to straighten out his immigration status.
Five years ago, Heidelberg decided to give Bartsch a special-circumstances scholarship and anonymous donors paid for his room, board and books. He did well in college, serving as the president of his fraternity and an orientation leader, and made the dean’s list his final semester.
Yet, despite his degree, he was unable to work, obtain a Social Security number or a driver’s license, or apply for citizenship. The threat of deportation always lingered.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, Obama’s policy would give certain young people who were brought to the U.S. through no fault of their own as young children and who meet certain criteria the opportunity to be considered for “relief from removal from the country. …” “Those who demonstrate that they meet the criteria will be eligible to receive deferred action for a period of two years, subject to renewal.”
Bartsch believes the ruling will allow him to get on with his life. “At least now, I can move forward and start my career … do the things I’ve been wanting to do,” he said.
For some time, he has eyed a career in the political arena. He’d like to join the staff of a senator or a representative at the state or national level, or work for an NGO.
Bartsch has been an outspoken advocate for the DREAM Act, raising awareness about the plight of undocumented immigrants at every opportunity. The DREAM Act, short for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors, would give conditional permanent residency to certain individuals who meet a set of criteria. It has been tangled in Congress for more than 10 years.
Even so, Bartsch remains hopeful – and willing to tell his story. He has been interviewed many times by print and television media about his situation. He and 34 other undocumented immigrants don the cover of this week’s TIME magazine (Manny is under the "E" in TIME), under the headline “We are Americans, just not legally.”
In late May, Bartsch traveled to New York City for a two-day photo shoot and interview for the TIME piece. He was heartened to meet other young adults in similar situations, including Jose Vargas, the article’s author. “It was great to learn what they are doing to raise awareness,” he said.
On Sunday, he was interviewed by MSNBC’s Alex Witt. “Never did I think it would get this big,” Bartsch said, adding that his is humbled to be a small part “of helping make a difference for 800,000 people in the U.S. looking to get a job or go to college.”
Long-time DREAM Act proponent Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois gave Manny’s story additional attention when he shared details Tuesday on the floor of the U.S. Senate.
While the Congress continues to wrangle with the issue, Bartsch remains optimistic. “At least now, the issue is back in the limelight. Let’s hope they can come together and get something passed.”
For now, time may be on his side.