As some 4 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. prepare to file for immigration reprieve, Washington's top ambassador for the idea is drumming up support on the West Coast.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson was in Los Angeles Thursday speaking to community members and undocumented immigrants about the federal DACA and DAPA plans moving forward.
DACA - Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals - is set to expand starting Feb. 18.
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The program was initiated in 2012 and allowed for those who came to the U.S. as children after 1981 to apply for two years of deferred status and avoid deportation. The expansion will remove the 1981 deadline and increase the deferred status to three years.
DAPA - Deferred Action for Parents of American Citizens and Legal Residents - is set to begin accepting applications in May, with priority given to those who have been in the U.S. for at least five years and who have children who are either American citizens or legal residents.
In Los Angeles, both programs will affect an estimated 550,000 people.
"These aren't about statistics, this isn't about numbers," LA Mayor Eric Garcetti said at the Downtown LA Library. "This is about flesh and blood."
In the audience to listen to Johnson were about 300 people, many from different community immigrant organizations, with questions about the new programs. Maria Galvan spoke with NBC4 about her continued fears - her daughters both qualified for DACA, but Maria and her husband Luis do not qualify for DAPA - and she worries her family could be split up if she's deported.
"The kids are with their father and mother and they are suffering if they lose them," she said. "When is it going to be our time?"
Another man who says he's been in California for 40 years and now enjoys permanent residency, Pedro Gonzalez, says he's not looking for protection, but rather respect.
"We have been given great opportunities here," he said. "But we have worked hard for it."
Secretary Johnson may have to work hard to keep the DACA and DAPA programs in place, though. A tight DHS budget keeps his hands somewhat tied, as he pointed out the department runs on a continuing resolution that expires at the end of February.
"It's like driving across the country on no more than five gallons of gas at a time and not knowing where the next gas station is," he told reporters outside the library. "The American people, in these challenging times, need a fully-funded Department of Homeland Security."
Secretary Johnson says the DACA and DAPA programs are designed to pay for themselves through the application process.
"We want a lot of applicants to come forward as soon as possible when we begin accepting applications," he said.
There is an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., some 4 million are expected to benefit from President Barack Obama's executive action.
Secretary Johnson received a rousing applause when he explained what he said was his personal thoughts on the ongoing immigration reform battle.
"I happen to believe that in God's Earth, there are no second-class people," he said. "They are not going away. And they are not going to be deported in any administration."
Filing for DACA applications will begin February 18 and filing for DAPA applications are set to begin in May.