Hopeful undocumented young adults gathered Wednesday outside the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights headquarters hours as the application process began for a program designed to grant work rights to immigrants who came to the United States as children.
Beginning Wednesday morning, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program will allow young people who qualify to file applications downloaded from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website.
Brenda Robles, of Torrance, waited in a line outside CHIRLA headquarters Wednesday for a workshop to help guide her through the process and paperwork.
"It means a lot to me," she said. "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."
Jorge-Maria Cabrera of CHIRLA said the organization has spoken to 36,000 people just in the past two weeks about the application process. He estimates that two out of 10 applicants will not qualify.
The program was created in June under an executive order signed by President Barack Obama.
After paying a $465 application fee, immigrants who entered the country without authorization before age 16 can apply for "deferred action" -- the process would stop the program participant's deporation and qualify the individual for a work permit that is renewable every two years.
Applicants must be under 31 years old and prove they arrived in the United States before they turned 16, have been in the country at least five years, are in school or have either graduated or served in the military. They also cannot have a criminal record.
"It's a stop-gap measure that protects these young people from deportation," said immigration attorney Judy London. "It is not a path to residency or citizenship.
"I don't know how you could call young children lawbreakers. Most of them came here before they could possibly understand or form an intent to violate immigration laws."
A decision on each application could take several months.
Critics have called the program backdoor amnesty and say they worry about fraud.
"The administration is taking upon itself the moral authority like a dictator or a king to decide who gets to come and who doesn't," said Dan Stein, of the Federation for American Immigration Reform.
Anyone found to have committed fraud will be referred to federal immigration agents, according the the Department of Homeland Security.
Under guidelines the administration announced Tuesday, proof of identity and eligibility under the program could include a passport or birth certificate, school transcripts, medical and financial records and military service records. In some instances, multiple sworn affidavits, signed by a third party under penalty of perjury, could also be used, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
An estimated 1.7 million people could be eligible to stay in the U.S. and legally work under the new policy, according to the Migration Policy Institute.