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Young undocumented immigrants line up for chance to legally stay, work in US under new deferral program

Foreign consulates, lawyers’ offices and advocacy organizations were abuzz with activity as the federal government on Wednesday began allowing certain young undocumented immigrants who came to America as children to apply for the right to legally stay and work in the country.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services began accepting applications for consideration of “deferred action”— a two-year reprieve from any threat of deportation, with the possibility of renewal. The new Obama administration program, a radical and controversial change in immigration policy, was announced by Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano in mid-June.

The government posted the application forms online on Tuesday. 

In Chicago, thousands of people lined up Wednesday morning at Navy Pier, a 3,300-foot-long pier on the shoreline of Lake Michigan, for one of many “DREAM Relief Day” activities scheduled across the nation.  The informational event was sponsored by the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights to help immigrants apply for the reprieve and get work permits.

"It's an opportunity that we've been waiting for basically for a really long time, and finally it's here," one potential applicant, Edalid Miranda, told NBC Chicago

Sen. Dick Durbin, Rep. Luis Gutierrez and Mayor Rahm Emanuel were among the elected officials at the event.

“The people who say undocumented immigrants don't really want to be part of this country will have to rethink that when they see hundreds of thousands or maybe a million young people come forward to sign up in the coming weeks and months,” Gutierrez, a strong backer of the new Obama policy, said in a news release.

A day earlier, an essay by Gutierrez titled “Ten Reasons Young People Should Come Forward For Deferred Action” was published in the Huffington Post.

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In California, lines formed outside the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles for a workshop to help people through the paperwork.

"It means a lot to me," Brenda Robles, of Torrance, told NBC Los Angeles. "Now I can be legal. Now I can do what everybody does -- work legally and have something that shows I can work. I won't have fear anymore.

"After I got out of high school, I saw all my friends looking for jobs. I had to get a baby-sitting job to pay for my school."

Young undocumented immigrants across the country have been busy assembling the records and documents they might need to satisfy the application requirements.

“People are very, very anxious to file, so we’ve been telling them to over-prepare,” Emid Gonzalez, manager of legal services at Casa de Maryland, told The Washington Post. The group scheduled an afternoon workshop Wednesday that promised to be well-attended. “The phone has been ringing off the hook,” Gonzalez told the newspaper.

In New York City, more than 1,000 young people and their families showed up Wednesday for a workshop and legal clinic at St. Mary's Church on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the New York Immigration Coalition said. "Today we embark on a road to deferred action, work authorization, and the ability of eligible young people to pursue their dreams in the country they call home," Chung-Wha Hong, coalition executive director, was quoted as saying in a press release. "Let’s hope this is the first step to the kinds of reform our country, and our communities, so desperately need.”

At the Honduran Consulate in Washington on Tuesday, a line of people wrapped around the building before it was open for business, and the office was crowded for much of the day, The Associated Press reported. Honduran Consulate officials said the number of people applying for passports has more than doubled in the past week, and almost all of them have said they were getting passports to apply to stay in the U.S.

Mayra Rivera, 47, brought her children, ages 18 and 20, to the consulate from Philadelphia to help them apply for passports.

"They came here when they were children. So, for them, even though they are from Honduras ... this is their adoptive country and they love it a lot," Rivera said in Spanish, according to AP. "For them to succeed ... is like winning the Lotto."

Chris Bentley, a spokesman for Citizenship and Immigration Services in Washington, said Wednesday it’ll be about two weeks before the government has preliminary numbers on how many people filed for the deportation reprieve on the first day. The first approval could come within a month, he said.

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Once an individual's application is received, the data is logged and the person gets a receipt number. The applicant must also go to an application support center to be fingerprinted and photographed. A background check is also done.

Applicants should find out within a few weeks whether they’ve been approved.

“USCIS has developed a rigorous review process for deferred action requests under guidelines issued by Secretary Napolitano,” said Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Alejandro Mayorkas. “Childhood arrivals who meet the guidelines and whose cases are deferred will now be able to live without fear of removal, and be able to more fully contribute their talents to our great nation.”

The Migration Policy Institute and the Pew Hispanic Center estimate that as many as 1.7 million undocumented immigrants could be eligible to apply under the program, formally called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

To be considered, applicants must meet these criteria: 

  1. Were under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012;
  2. Came to the United States before reaching their 16th birthday;
  3. Have continuously resided in the United States since June 15, 2007, up to the present time;  
  4. Were physically present in the United States on June 15, 2012, and at the time of making their request for consideration of deferred action;
  5. Entered without inspection before June 15, 2012, or their lawful immigration status expired as of June 15, 2012;
  6. Are currently in school, have graduated or obtained a certificate of completion from high school, have obtained a general education development (GED) certificate, or are an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States; and
  7. Have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, three or more other misdemeanors, and do not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety.

Information from, and The Associated Press is included in this story.

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