That was when Obama issued a directive stopping deportations of such people, or Dreamers as they are known after the Dream Act that sought to legalize them.
It was their turn to watch on Thursday as the Senate took the first significant step toward lifting their friends and family from the darkness, as well.
Vice President Joe Biden presided over the historic session as lawmakers voted from their seats, gaveling down a 68 to 32 vote for what would be the first overhaul of the nation's immigration laws since 1986. Dozens -- maybe more -- of Dreamers lined the gallery that rings the stately upper chamber of Congress.
"It was extremely powerful to hear every senator say aloud their vote," said Carolina Bortolleto, 25, who arrived with her parents from Brazil 15 years ago. She graduated from college in 2010, but realized it would do her little good.
"I saw no future for myself because I couldn't use my degree," Bortolleto said, and that inspired her to join the fight for immigration reform.
"It was very moving. I saw Joe Biden, and was like, 'This is a big deal. It's not just some presiding officer," Bortolleto said, a little giddy and a little emotional at the same time.
Lissette Moreno, 29, had tears rimming her eyes as she left the Senate gallery. Her parents brought her to the U.S. when she was 5 and overstayed their visas. She said she has earned degrees in international business and fashion design.
"I was praying hard," Moreno said of the moment when the vote came. "I've been waiting for this moment all my life. All my life I've lived in fear," she said, a quaver in her voice. "I'm very happy for myself, my family and my community."
Raul Anaya, a 22-year-old intern on Capitol Hill, came to the U.S. with his parents 12 years ago on a tourist visa. They were unable to get permanent residency through relatives, who are citizens.
He had to control himself as others chanted "Yes we can!" in violation of Senate decorum.
"I had an internal wish to cheer ... but I didn't want to get in trouble with that," Anaya said.
He and the others said they are aware that the House of Representatives represents a difficult challenge for immigration reform. They said they hoped they and others can convince the GOP-controlled chamber to bring the same light to some 11 million undocumented immigrants.
"Hopefully we can get that as soon as possible so that I can start making my life here. I want to live here," Anaya said. "I consider myself a citizen, even if not on paper. I grew up here. This is my home."
Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.
Reform Would Help Curb The Deficit
Immigration reform would <a href="http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-04-08/business/38371503_1_previous-immigration-bills-immigration-reform-immigration-laws" target="_blank">reduce the federal deficit by $2.5 trillion</a> over the next 10 years, according to an April analysis by the American Action Forum, a conservative think tank.
Expelling Immigrants Is Expensive
Expelling the approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the United States would cost $2.6 trillion over the next 10 years, <a href="http://www.cnbc.com/id/100449802" target="_blank">according to CNBC</a>. That's because it costs the government more than $8,000 to deport each person.
Reform Would Help Fix The Social Security Problem
Immigration reform would help bolster Social Security because more legal workers would mean more people contributing payroll taxes to its trust fund, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/huff-wires/20130508/us-immigration/?utm_hp_ref=arts&ir=arts" target="_blank">according to an analysis from the Social Security administration</a>. Undocumented workers <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/18/immigration-reform-social-security_n_3103500.html" target="_blank">already contribute $15 billion per year</a> to Social Security.
Immigrants Start Successful Businesses
More than <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/01/31/worried-about-the-economy-then-pass-immigration-reform/" target="_blank">a quarter of technology and engineering firms</a> started between 1995 and 2005 had a foreign-born owner, according to the Washington Post. One <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/22/american-companies-founded-by-immigrants_n_3116172.html#slide=2357880" target="_blank">of the founders of Yahoo!</a>, Jerry Yang, is an immigrant from Taiwan.
Reform Would Save $410 Billion Over The Next 10 Years
The immigration reform bill proposed by the "gang of eight" senators would save <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/15/immigration-reform-save-billions_n_3280145.html?utm_hp_ref=business" target="_blank"> $410 billion over the next decade</a>, according to an analysis from Gordon Gray, the director of fiscal policy at the American Action Forum, a conservative think tank. The savings would come largely from a boost in GDP resulting from undocumented immigrants gaining citizenship and in turn likely making more money.
High-Tech Companies Say Reform Would Boost Their Bottom Line
Companies like Microsoft and Google have said that immigration reform would help them by <a href="http://www.bizjournals.com/sanjose/news/2013/01/29/facebook-microsoft-back-senate.html" target="_blank">allowing for more H1B visas</a>, a special kind of visa geared toward highly-skilled immigrants. The tech giants say they can't find enough qualified people in the U.S. to fill their staffing needs.
Reform Would Boost The Wages Of Native-Born Workers
U.S.-born workers see between a 0.1 and 0.6 percent boost in wages on average with an increase in immigration, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/30/immigration-reform-workers_n_2583576.html" target="_blank">according to a January report from the Hamilton Project</a>, an economic policy initiative of the nonpartisan Brookings Institution. That's because immigrant workers bring skills with them that complement those of native-born workers, leading to new jobs.
Immigrants Are Entrepreneurial
Immigrants are <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2013/03/13/economic-case-commonsense-immigration-reform" target="_blank">more than twice as likely</a> than native-born Americans to start new businesses, according to a White House report on immigration reform.
Reform Would Boost GDP By More Than $1 Trillion Over 10 Years
Immigration reform <a href="http://www.cnbc.com/id/100449802" target="_blank">would boost GDP by $1.5 trillion</a> -- or about 1 percent -- over 10 years, according to an estimate from UCLA professor Raul Hinojosa-Ojeda cited by CNBC.
Immigrants Create Jobs
Businesses owned by immigrants <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2013/03/13/economic-case-commonsense-immigration-reform" target="_blank">created 4.7 million jobs</a> in the U.S. in 2007, according to a White House report on immigration reform.
Reform Would Bring In More Money Than It Costs In Benefits
Though many critics of immigration reform argue against the cost of providing increased public benefits, analysts say higher spending is not a likely consequence. A Congressional Budget Analysis of George W. Bush's 2007 immigration reform proposal found that it would cost the government $23 billion in more public services, but bring in $48 billion in revenue, <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/01/31/worried-about-the-economy-then-pass-immigration-reform/" target="_blank">according to the Washington Post</a>.