Hopeful young immigrants flooded immigration workshops, consulates and advocates' offices nationwide Wednesday, eager to take advantage of a new White House policyt granting them temporary deportation relief.
The new Department of Homeland Security policy, which President Barack Obama announced in June and which took effect Wednesday, could give a two-year deferral of deportation proceedings — and the right to work legally in the meantime — to as many as an estimated 1.7 million undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children.
The opportunity is available to immigrants 30 and younger who came to the U.S. before the age of 16, have lived in the U.S. for at least five years, have no serious criminal record and either are in school, have graduated or served in the U.S. Armed Forces.
In Chicago, thousands of undocumented students, plus Sen. Dick Durbin and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, turned out for a Dream Relief workshop Wednesday to apply for a deportation deferral — as many as 50,000, according to estimates, so many that organizers had to turn incoming crowds away, NBC 5 Chicago reported.
Immigrant groups in south Florida convened Wednesday, too — as did Rep. David Rivera — to help guide young immigrants through the process of applying for deferred deportation action, NBC 6 South Florida reported.
One young high school valedictorian who made headlines earlier this year when she faced the threat of deportation hailed the new Obama measure as she prepared to take advantage of it.
"I think it's a big step in a positive direction," recent North Miami Senior High School valedictorian Daniela Pelaez, who is set to study medicine at Dartmouth College this fall, told NBC 6 South Florida.
Itzel Guillen, an 18-year-old San Diego woman who is starting college this fall, too, echoed Pelaez's relief.
"We're here just to live happily [and] safe and we've left from an environment that didn't let us live like that," she told NBC 7 San Diego.
"Now I can do what everybody does: Work — work legally," Brenda Robles told NBC 4 Los Angeles as she waited outside the headquarters of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights in Torrance, Calif.
Robles said she had taken babysitting jobs to pay for her education while watching her friends look for other jobs. "It's been really difficult," she admitted.
Immigration advocates warned permit-seekers not to rush their applications, however, and cautioned that the sweeping new policy change was a stop-gap measure rather than a sustainable policy.
"It's important to get the application right the first time," Cheryl Little, director of the advocacy group Americans for Immigrant Justice, said in a release.
Obama announced the policy in June after Congress failed to pass the DREAM Act, which he supported and which would have given young immigrants legal status.