The San Diego Unified School District on Tuesday was flooded with hundreds of requests for school records from young undocumented immigrants who need the proof to help them possibly stay in the United States.
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For many, their school history is the key to unlocking a painful past they say they are trapped in.
"It wasn't my fault when I first came here without status," said Yeondo Hua as she fought back tears. Hua said she came to the United States from Korea when she was 8 years old and has been undocumented ever since.
Tuesday represented a chance she said she has been waiting for more than 20 years.
"I got all my education in America," said Hua. "English is my first language."
Hua is one of hundreds asking San Diego Unified schools for their school history. The history is necessary to apply for deferred action, which will grant eligible undocumented immigrants permission to stay in the United States for two years and obtain work permits.
Since President Obama announced the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program on Aug. 15, the district has been inundated with about 100 requests a day for records, forcing officials to open a temporary office at the Ballard Parent Center in Old Town.
With the start of school, the requests have been overwhelming the computer system, which is processing just 32 requests a day by three staff members now dedicated to this task.
"If we weren't doing it here, we'd be doing it at school so the cost would have been there in some way," said Bea Fernandez, the program manager for parent outreach and engagement at the center.
Eligibility for deferred action includes arriving in the United States before age 16, being 30 year old or younger, and being in school, graduated or having served in the military.
An estimated 10,000 people are potentially eligible in the city of San Diego. About 30,000 are potentially eligible in the county.
The vast majority of requests are from Spanish speakers such as 17-year-old Laura Estrada.
"Getting this chance just gives me hope for the future to help out my family too," she said.
For Hua, fear of going public is nothing compared to not being able to put her master's degree in math education to use.
"I have all the degrees but I wasn't able to get a decent job," she explained with emotion. "I believe that I can do something for this country."
The district's DACA office is located at the Ballard Parent Center at 2375 Congress St. in Old Town.
It is open weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and is expected to stay open through Nov. 7.
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