Even though they couldn’t vote, they had influence.
Their protests and pressure helped push President Obama to offer many of them reprieves from deportation. So far about 310,000 youths have emerged from the shadows to apply, with numbers rising rapidly.
Door-knocking campaigns led by those immigrants, who could not vote, mobilized many Latinos who could, based in no small part on the popularity of the reprieve program. After Latinos rewarded Mr. Obama with 71 percent of their votes, the president said one of the first items on his agenda next year would be a bill to legalize 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States, which would offer a path to citizenship for young people.
Behind the political momentum, administration officials and advocates say, is an extensive and surprisingly adroit movement of youthful immigrants. Because of their illegal status, however, they have often been more influential than they have been visible. In the past two years, they pursued their goal of legal recognition through a calibrated strategy of quiet negotiations, public “coming-out” events where youths declared their status, and escalating street protests.
Now, movement leaders say, it is payback time.