DANBURY -- Like thousands of young, undocumented immigrants, Camila Bortolleto felt her future become a lot brighter Friday.
That's because President Barack Obama's administration announced a policy that allows an estimated 800,000 illegal immigrants from 16 to 30 years old to apply to stay in the country without fear of deportation for the next two years.
Under the president's executive order, they can also apply for work permits.
"I can actually have a real future now," said Bortolleto, 24, a city woman and undocumented immigrant who graduated from Western Connecticut State University two years ago with a degree in biology and international studies.
"We are all still trying to get our heads around it," said Bortolleto, who came to the United States with her family from Brazil when she was 9. "We've been living so long without a real sense of the future. It feels amazing. This is going to change a lot of people's lives."
Lorella Praeli, a New Milford High School graduate and national coordinator of United We Dream, said Friday that she's been meeting with one of Obama's senior advisers for the past few months.
"It's everything we've been asking for," said Praeli, 23, who also serves as the director of Connecticut Students for a Dream. "It's such an amazing, beautiful day. People can now provide for their families and contribute to the economy in a more profound and powerful way."
Praeli, who traveled to Washington D.C. on Friday for the new policy announcement, said that, realizing the U.S. Congress would do little to address immigration reform, United We Dream began to focus its efforts on the Obama administration.
The conversation began to shift, she said, when advocates presented the administration with a letter signed by 96 law professors throughout the country, stating that Obama had authority to implement the policy.
"That really shifted the narrative when we broke down the legal obstacles," said Praeli, who came to the United States with her family from Peru when she was 10.
Some, however, argue that Obama usurped authority that belongs to Congress by issuing the executive order.
The policy allows undocumented immigrants between the ages of 16 and 30 to apply for a two-year deportation stay and a work permit. Applicants must have been in the United States as of Friday, and they must have arrived before they turned 16. They also must be attending school, have graduated from high school or been honorably discharged from the military.
Anyone who has been convicted of a felony or a "significant" misdemeanor offense is not eligible.
Mayor Mark Boughton, a prominent and vocal Republican in the state on immigration issues, said he agrees that anyone who served in the military and risked his or her life for the United States should be allowed to stay.
But he added, "I don't like any policy that's created in a vacuum. It has to be part of a broader plan."
Boughton said the president, or Congress, for that matter, should not make unilateral decisions.
"It sounds like he sidestepped Congress," said state Sen. Michael McLachlan, R-Danbury.
Local immigration attorney Michael Boyle, however, said he believes the president has the power to issue the policy, which he said is an extension of a "deferred action" provision already in place.
"It's been around a long time and people (are granted) it fairly often," Boyle said. "But this makes clear what the standard is, and it's actually very strict. It looks like even a shoplifting conviction could get someone thrown out."
Boyle was in Tennessee, attending the national meeting of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, when news of the policy broke on Friday.
"All of the noon seminars were canceled, and 1,500 lawyers gathered around a television to watch CNN," he said. "Most of the last 15 years, it's been hard being an immigration attorney. Today was a good day."