Hundreds of young undocumented immigrants lined up in the Westlake District Wednesday, Aug. 15, to take advantage of a new federal program under which they can avoid deportation and obtain the right to work.
The government began accepting applications yesterday for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which targets immigrants who came to the country at a young age and have been attending school or served in the military and have not been convicted of a crime.
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“This actually means getting my life back,” one of the applicants, Victor Vargas, told ABC7 as he waited in line at the Westlake District office of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, which offered assistance to people who want to take advantage of the program.
“ … I want to contribute to this country,” he said. “I was brought here at a young age. I had no control over that. I just want to go back to school and work legally, pay taxes and do what I have to do to help my family out.”
To take advantage of the program, undocumented youth must have:
—come to the United States under age 16;
—be younger than 30;
—have continuously lived in the United States for at least five years;
—be enrolled in school, have graduated from high school, have obtained a general education development certificate or be honorably discharged from the Coast Guard or Armed Forces; and
—have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, multiple misdemeanors or pose a threat to national security.
Applications are available on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website. It costs $465 to apply.
“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,” according to USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas.
Federal officials noted that applications would be reviewed and decisions to grant the deferrals would be made on a case-by-case basis.
The program in itself will not produce immediate citizenship or give its participants permission to travel outside the United States.
The deferral process, which was announced by President Barack Obama on June 15, drawing praise from immigrant-rights advocates and ire from many Republicans — who blasted it as an election-year ploy to woo Latino voters — and other groups who said the president was ignoring the wishes of Congress, which has rejected the so-called DREAM Act.
On its website, the Federation for American Immigration Reform called the deferral process a way “to grant backdoor amnesty to illegal alients who meet criteria similar to that of the failed DREAM Act.”
“Alarmingly, the application process set forth by the administration serves as nothing more than an open invitation for fraud by illegal aliens looking to game the system,” according to FAIR. “The application contains no evidentiary standards for the documents illegal aliens must show to prove they meet the administration’s already low criteria.”
Rep. Javier Becerra, D-Los Angeles, hailed the program, saying undocumented youth “now have the opportunity to put their talents and education to work for the country they know and call home.”
When he announced the program, Obama said it would “ lift the shadow of deportation from these young people.”
The president insisted the policy was not amnesty, immunity, a path to citizenship or a “permanent fix” to the immigration system. He called it a “stop-gap measure” that gives “a degree of relief and hope to driven, patriotic young people.”