Immigrants have waited for final details of the plan in the two months since President Obama pledged to brush aside years of congressional stalemate over the Dream Act and grant de facto residency to qualified immigrants.
On Tuesday, officials surprised advocacy groups by posting the application forms online one day early. Advocates across the country planned workshops Wednesday for hundreds of immigrants eager to learn who will qualify and how to apply.
“Starting today, this process will allow law enforcement to dedicate their efforts to going after violent criminals and those who pose risks to our national security, while preserving opportunity for thousands of young people,” Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said in a statement. “This is smart policy that will enhance our nation’s security while removing the specter of deportation that haunts DREAMers.”
Saying that “the onus is on Congress to permanently fix our broken immigration system,” Reid called on Republicans to “help us pass the DREAM Act along with comprehensive immigration reform that is tough, fair and practical.”
The National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities urged eligible young people to apply for the program “with the benefit of experienced legal advice.”
“Even though DA [deferred action] is only a temporary immigration relief initiative, it represents the largest immigration benefit application process since the 1986 immigration reform law,” said alliance board member Patricia Montes.
Families have been scrambling to assemble school records, utility bills and other documents that may be needed, advocates said.
“People are very, very anxious to file, so we’ve been telling them to over-prepare,” said Emid Gonzalez, manager of legal services at Casa de Maryland. The group scheduled an afternoon workshop Wednesday at which she expects to see family documents by the armload. “The phone has been ringing off the hook.”
The program is open to immigrants ages 15 to 31 who came to the country before they were 16 and have lived here continuously for at least the past five years. Among other restrictions, they must be free of serious criminal convictions, be enrolled in or have completed high school, or have served in the U.S. military. On Tuesday, officials confirmed that those enrolled in GED programs and certain training programs will also qualify, broadening the program’s potential reach.