The Obama administration’s relaxed deportation rules are now in effect.
Hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants are expected to register with the Department of Homeland Security as a result.
The at least two-year temporary deferral of deportation covers those who were younger than 16 when they came to the United States.
One young man who felt here finally was change he could believe in, Duvan Diaz, said: “I’m actually from Colombia and I was born and raised over there to the age of eleven, and then my mom brought me here to live the American dream.”
Karla Clara from El Salvador said: “People here don’t think we’re Americans but we are. We grew up here. The truth is that this is our country.”
The Dream Act, a bill stalled in Congress, seeks to create a permanent legal status for the children of immigrants who entered the country illegally.
Applicants must be between 15 and 30 years of age and must not have been convicted of a serious crime.
As many as 1.7 million people could qualify for the temporary programme, which enables them to apply for work permits, Social Security cards and driver’s licenses.
President Barack Obama’s administration has aggressively deported illegal immigrants with criminal backgrounds.
Preparing his move in June, Obama said: “Let’s be clear: this is not amnesty — this a temporary, stopgap measure that lets us focus our resources wisely, while giving a degree of relief and hope to talented, driven, patriotic young people.”
Republican critics say Obama is just after votes from immigrant communities.
Proving their identity, applicants must pay a 465 dollar (around 375 euro) fee. Lawyers note that a change of administration could see the programme pulled.
Thomas Ragland, with the Immigration Lawyers Association, said: “For most of these kids, they’ve never had any status. I mean, the idea of going from ‘I don’t have anything right now’ to ‘I could get my drivers license, I could be able to get a job, I could be able to work’ – that’s really worth it. I mean, to go from no status to having even this temporary status is worth it to them.”
Immigrant advocates warned them to have a lawyer check for mistakes or misunderstandings, and noted the temporary measure does not provide a green card or United States citizenship.