Dreamers are finally getting their dream--or at least part of it. Starting on Wednesday, illegal immigrants aged 30 or younger who were brought to the country as children may apply for relief from deportation and a two-year, renewable work permit under President Barack Obama's deferred action program.
As many as 1.7 million people could qualify, though only 700,000 of them are older than 17, according to a Pew Hispanic Center analysis. The three application forms required are already posted on a government website. But only people who have graduated from or are enrolled in high school and have no criminal records will be accepted. And there's a $465 fee to apply.
On Wednesday, immigrant groups around the country will be holding hundreds of forums to help people figure out if they qualify for the status and what kinds of documentation they need to prove it. If a person commits fraud on an application, he or she will become a deportation priority, a senior administration official told reporters on Tuesday. If an applicant doesn't commit fraud but is still rejected from the temporary legal status, the government won't flag him for deportation or share his information with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
It's up to individual states to decide whether people who gain the temporary protected status and work permit should be allowed to get driver's licenses or qualify for in-state tuition, the administration official added.
Cesar Vargas, a recent CUNY law school graduate whose family brought him to the country illegally when he was 5 years old, said he plans to apply for the status on Wednesday morning before volunteering to help others fill out their forms at an event in New York City. Vargas has spent years lobbying for the Dream Act, which would give young people who go to college or attend the military a path to citizenship. He hopes that young illegal immigrants, called "Dreamers" after the bill, don't give up trying to get Congress to pass that broader reform, since this status doesn't provide permanent legal standing or a way to become a citizen.
"We definitely want to empower the Dreamers to not only not be afraid but take an affirmative position on the message we want to send Mitt Romney and to the president," he told Yahoo News. Vargas says his organization, called Dream Capitol Group, is also trying to pressure Romney into saying whether he would yank the deferred action program if elected president or let it stand. So far, Romney hasn't made that clear.