More than 13,000 young people lined up around Navy Pier to apply for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals which would protect them from deportation and grant them temporarily relief to lawfully live and work in the United States for two years if they meet certain requirements. The applications of 7,000 people were processed on Wednesday, according to the Illinois Commission for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR).
The Obama administration says the process won't lead to citizenship. It is a temporary solution to immigration reform. Critics say it is a pass to amnesty.
Applicants must meet the following requirements to be eligible:
- Came to US before age 16
- Lived continuously in the US for 5 years and in the US now
- Must be younger than 31 as of June 15, 2012
- Must be in school, graduated from high school/GED, or served in military.
- No criminal record (felony or significant misdemeanor or 3+ misdemeanors)
- Pose no threat to national security or public safety
- Pass background check
- Pay $465 fee
If approved, the immigrants will be granted legal rights to work in the U.S. and will be given a two-year break from the possibility of being deported.
"It is a very, very big step for everyone but it is not the end. It is not what we wanted. We need to fight more for the DREAM Act," said student Janeth Vazquez.
Nayeli Manzano, 16, said she came here as a child from Mexico with her family, feels it's her country and says she very much wants to be a part of it legally.
"I was able to learn the customs and traditions, and I am used to living the life here. I feel I am a citizen. The only thing that is stopping me is a little piece of paper," she said.
"That is what we are really doing today, giving them a piece of paper saying for two years you can stay in the United States and get your driver's license. Go study," said U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, (D) Chicago and southwest suburbs.
"It is a big step. It is not the DREAM Act but it will help a lot of people. Getting work permits will help me pay for my education," said University of Illinois med student Mitchell Garcia.
"We have over 800 volunteers inside, lawyers, providing legal assistance to help these kids apply," said Lawrence Benito, deputy director, ICIRR.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced an additional $250,000 donation to the DREAM fund during Wednesday's historic event.
"I look out and I see nothing but patriots here, people who love their country," said Emanuel.
More than 75,000 young undocumented immigrants live in Illinois.
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