DANBURY -- Camila and Carolina Bortolleto came from Brazil as 9-year-old girls.
Years passed before they discovered they could not get jobs or even a driver's license in the United States.
They are undocumented immigrants.
President Barack Obama announced Friday the government would grant work permits to undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children, which could mean up to 15,000 people in Connecticut and about 800,000 nationwide.
"Before Friday, so many doors were closed to undocumented students, and Friday night so many doors were opened," Carolina Bortolleto said Tuesday at her parents' home in Danbury. "This is the culmination of a lot of work of dreamers across the country, and shows the power of immigrant young people when they come together."
The twins spoke about their plight in 2010.
"Two years ago, there was no conversation about what to do for undocumented students in Connecticut," Camila Bortolleto said. "Over the past two years, we've built something great, something beautiful, a community of individuals who want to fight for their rights, who are empowered and found their voices."
The Bortolletos helped found Connecticut Students for a Dream, which worked with the national group, United We Dream, to lobby Obama to use his executive power to provide relief to undocumented youth who fit certain criteria, such as having entered the United States before age 16, being age 30 or younger, being in school or having graduated from high school, obtained a GED, or been honorably discharged from U.S. military service.
The twins also were part of a Monday's news conference in New Haven to discuss Obama's announcement. The event was hosted by Yale Law School's Worker & Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic, which represented the national and state efforts to lobby the Obama administration.
Lobbyists continue to push for the DREAM Act, which would allow qualifying, undocumented youth a six-year conditional path to citizenship.
The twins said they are on the cover of Time magazine's June 25 issue for an immigration story, and the state Spanish newspaper, El Sol. They said they have been quoted around the country in recent days.
But, until now, their biology degrees were not being used. With permits, which are not yet available, they said they plan to work to pay for graduate school and then get jobs.
Carolina Bortolleto said that in high school she felt like she was a regular student, until she turned 16 and had to start lying to her friends about why she didn't have a driver's license, and about why, as a high honors student, she wasn't applying to colleges for financial aid.
"We didn't know any other undocumented students, because no one talked about it in school," Carolina said. "Now it doesn't feel as scary for students to come out, because they have a support system.
"When you come out as undocumented, it's very liberating not to have to make excuses anymore and it's empowering to change people's perceptions about us."
Speaking out is important, Camila Bortolleto said, because some think undocumented students want to cheat the system, when they really want to have jobs and give back to their communities.
"We will earn money to become taxpayers," Camila said. "Ultimately, society is going to benefit.''
Connecticut Students for a Dream also helped lobby for the passage of tuition legislation that allows the undocumented students to pay in-state rates for Connecticut state colleges, instead of the higher, out-of-state cost. The group helps undocumented high school students apply to college and find financial aid, and members speak at community centers, churches and high schools.
"The immigration system is broken and there is no line for us to get into. The system needs to be fixed,'' Carolina Bortolleto said. "We hope Congress will follow the president's lead and pass a permanent solution for the immigrant community."