Activists plan to hold regular events over the next several months to draw into the program eligible immigrants, many of whom will be averse to revealing their names and addresses to federal authorities.
But more than 5,000 have registered for an information session Gutierrez is planning Wednesday at Chicago’s Navy Pier. Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) plan to attend, basking in an election-year initiative that Democrats hope will please Latino voters after years of record deportations. “This is such a contrast to the years of deportation,” Gutierrez said. “The rewards are going to be huge.”
Critics said politics explains everything about a program they characterize as amnesty for lawbreakers at a time of soaring joblessness. “With unemployment at 8.3%, it’s unconscionable that the Obama administration’s amnesty program actually requires illegal immigrants to apply for work authorization in the U.S.,” said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, in a statement. “This undercuts the 23 million unemployed or underemployed Americans.”
Opponents also complain about the costs. Homeland Security officials will rule case-by-case on applicants, presenting huge personnel demands. Officials say they hope to pay for caseworkers with the application fee.
Opponents and supporters alike agree that the two-year protections are likely to be renewed indefinitely, as has been the case with Haitian refugees and others who have gotten such status. While future administrations may stop granting the protections, they are unlikely to move to deport those already enrolled.
“There’s no way Romney is going reverse this, at least not for those who already have it,” said Mark Krikorian, head of Washington’s Center for Immigration Studies, which favors tighter restrictions on immigration.
For some young immigrants on the verge of being sent out of the country, the program has amounted to a tarmac reprieve. Lawyers say numerous pending deportations have been paused as immigration officials review people’s eligibility for deferred action.
Doug Stump, an immigration lawyer in Oklahoma City, has had three sets of clients like that in recent weeks. Among them were two college-student siblings within days of boarding a plane for Guatemala, a country neither had seen they were toddlers.
“They were terrified. They’ve been in this country their whole lives,” Stump said. Officials agreed to halt the proceedings when he showed the two would likely qualify for the new protections. Afterward, Stump said, “It was a tear-fest around here.”