He listens to rap, not ranchero. He can't even name a Mexican song he's particularly fond of. If he were to try to visit his deported father in Mexico, he'd never be let back into the United States.
If you think "Born in East L.A." was just a funny movie - in which the hapless Cheech Marin visits Tijuana, then can't get back to San Diego - think again.
It's an everyday reality for Luis Avila, a product of the Las Vegas public school system and a graduate this summer of Clark High School.
Crossing international borders, or even entertaining the notion, is a point of no return.
With his black-rimmed glasses, his bright white T-shirt and assorted colors of yarn for wrist bands, Avila, 18, looks more like a hipster or computer whiz - not some illegal immigrant who's been living on the precipice of deportation for the past 16 years.
Because his well-intentioned mother smuggled him into the United States at the age of 2 on a commercial airliner, Avila has been forced to forgo the sort of sacrosanct privileges that come with the coming of age: He can't drive to the movies on a Friday night because he can't get a license; he can't flip burgers because he can't legally work; he can't open a bank account because he doesn't have a valid form of U.S. identification.
The only piece of identification he does have is a card issued to him by the Mexican consulate. It has the name of his birthplace, Chilpancingo, Guerrero. It's a town he can barely pronounce, much less spell.
Every passing day for Avila, by no stretch of the imagination, has been fraught with the constant worry that immigration officials might suddenly show up on his doorstep and say it's time to go.
But all that's about to change for him and an estimated 1.7 million other young illegal immigrants who are expected to apply for a two-year work permit that will delay their possible deportation and allow them temporary legal status in a country where they've lived most of their lives.
And so long lines outside of consulates were a common sight across the country on Wednesday as tens of thousands of illegal immigrants, with official documents and transcripts in tow, started the tedious bureaucratic process of applying for the permits.
In Chicago, 13,000 people showed up at Navy Pier for an immigration workshop, and organizers had to tell many to come back another day.
"Navy Pier is today's Ellis Island, and while they saw New York City, today they see Chicago," Illinois congressman Luis Gutierrez said. "But the most important thing is they see America."
Referred to in immigration circles as "Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals," President Barack Obama in mid-June tweaked the immigration guidelines to temporarily exempt from deportation a younger sector of the undocumented immigrant population.
Some saw it as political maneuver to harvest the Latino vote, but as Obama explained at the time, the theory behind the temporary amnesty is that the children, through no fault of their own, were brought to the United States by their parents. Therefore, they should not be deported because of it.
At least not immediately.
"I've been waiting years for this. I can hardly believe it," said an emotional Avila, whose first revelation that he was different from the rest of his class came in the fourth grade, when he was asked to write down the name of his hometown and he couldn't answer.
Since that day Avila has had to endure other humiliations, like being stuck inside an English as a Second Language class in the sixth grade, even though his English was fine at the time.
When his father was deported to Mexico, Avila, then a 7th grader, said he had a hard time convincing himself that he wasn't next.
But his preoccupation with the possibility of being deported changed a few weeks ago when his attorney, Veronica Valentine, told him he would qualify for the work permit.
"He started to cry. He broke out in tears he was so happy. It's like winning the lottery for many of these kids," said Valentine, who is very busy these days filing similar petitions to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service.
The agency has had to hire some 400 new adjudicators across the country to deal with the expected onslaught.
Applying for the permit is no easy process. The application is six pages long, and there are certain requirements:
■ Applicants must have come to the United States before the age of 16.
■ They must have lived here for five straight years.
■ They cannot be older than 30.
■ They have to either be currently enrolled in school or have a high school diploma or GED. Honorably discharged veterans are also eligible to apply.
■ And they must not have a criminal record.
The documents to prove identity could include passports, birth certificates, school transcripts, medical, financial and military records. Multiple sworn affidavits, signed under penalty of perjury, can also be used, Homeland Security officials said. Anyone found to have committed fraud will be referred to federal immigration agents.
The application fee is $465, and if applicants commit an error and are rejected as a result, "there are no second chances," said Laura Martin, a spokeswoman for PLAN, or the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, which held an informational gathering on Sixth Street in Las Vegas on Wednesday.
"In other words," she said, "you can't just do it over. You get a one-time shot at it."
Of the more than 1 million immigrants expected to apply across the country, 800,000 are expected to be approved. Las Vegas has an estimated 15,000 to 30,000 who are eligible, Martin said.
The two-year work permits, however, have not come without criticism.
Opponents of Obama's action claim it was nothing but a political maneuver to woo Latino votes. Already Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has said he would reverse Obama's decision, which means there will likely be a mad dash to finish the application before the presidential election in early November.
"For those who oppose it, what they fail to understand is that many of these immigrants have an education and they can now use their education to enrich and make contributions to the country," said Dolores Huerta, the labor and civil rights activist who made a showing Wednesday at PLAN headquarters.
Avila says he hopes to become a teacher someday. First, he will attend a community college. He says he likes numbers, and that maybe he'll major in math.
"I'm not sure yet," said Avila, a common refrain among any run of the mill teenager.
As for his girlfriend, Rachael Humphrey, things are looking up on the horizon. Although she doesn't mind driving Avila around, she said it's certainly going to be nice when he gets a legal shot at driving and doesn't have to worry about being pulled over, then deported.
"And if in two years, the permit ends and he can't apply for another one, I'm ready to go to Mexico with him," Humphrey says .
Valentine, Avila's attorney, is holding out hope it will be extended. That's the nature of the immigration business, although nothing is ever certain.
"But I'm proud," she said. "It's the first time that the country has looked within itself and is helping its immigrants by giving them temporary protected status."
She said those who receive such status often are those who have suffered a calamity in their own country and relocated to the United States, whether from earthquake, hurricane or for reasons of political refuge.
Not since the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, passed under President Ronald Reagan, has there been a similar form of amnesty, she said.
Illegal immigrants always run the risk of putting themselves on the official radar.
Laura Lichter, a Denver attorney who heads the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said everyone takes a risk by applying.
"I would say that people are between a rock and a hard place. In most cases, people can take (the government) at their word that their intent is to administer this policy in a fair and appropriate manner but there are going to be people that are going to find themselves having problems," she said
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact reporter Tom Ragan at email@example.com or 702-224-5512.