The fact that an escape from Pena's undocumented netherworld had materialized, and yet remained inaccessible was, in his words, "crazy making." It had never been easy to get through his days doing non-union construction jobs, but after he reached an impasse on his DACA application it became more painful. "You have this feeling that your life is never going anywhere," he says, "even when you're working seven days week and working really hard." Pena would get texts in the evening summoning him to a site at 5 AM the next morning; then, for 12 to 14 hours he would carry 80 pounds of concrete on his back and stir cement under a hot sun. At one point he'd seen an out from the job he'd come to loathe: Pena is a self-taught technology whiz and the owner of a rug cleaning company approached him about running IT for the small business. But when the man had discovered Pena didn't have a social security number, he withdrew the offer.
Greenberg encouraged Pena to keep mulling over his whereabouts around the time of the President's announcement "Don't worry about June 15 -- look at the month of June," she wrote him in an email. "Try to recount what you were doing." Pena racked his brain and kept coming up short. He did, however, take steps so that if he were to find that elusive receipt, he could apply for DACA right away. One of the program requirements for those without a high school diploma is to have a GED or proof that you are working towards one; in January of 2013, he quit construction work and enrolled in GED Plus in the Bronx. Pena wasn't the only DACA-eligible immigrant who was spurred to resume his education: Enrollment in GED classes skyrocketed to the point where New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn asked for an additional allocation of $13 million to make sure programs could accommodate the influx of students.
Pena also started compulsively hoarding receipts for documentation purposes, finally opened that bank account, and took out a credit card. It might not make a difference to his DACA application, but if broader immigration reform passed, he wasn't going to miss out because he lacked some slippery slips of paper.
The bipartisan Senate bill, which was introduced in April, in fact set a lower bar for proving residency than the DACA application demanded. It required just one piece of evidence showing residency before December 31, 2011. Pena wouldn't have any trouble passing muster. But there was no assurance that the requirement would be part of the bill, or--for that matter--that the bill would become law.
As it turned out, Pena's fate didn't hinge on the upcoming Washington debate. After queries from this reporter and Pena, Greenberg reviewed his application again and thought of an unexplored angle. Pena had said he hadn't been to the doctor, but what about his daughter? He remembered that he had in fact taken her for a checkup on June 18th. "I don't know where my head was," he said afterwards. "I just didn't think of it." Records corroborated Pena had been present at the pediatrician's office on nine occasions, including that seminal June date. Just around the time the Senate bill was announced, Pena put his DACA application in the mail, along with the $465 fee.