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Out of the Shadows
Beginning this month thousands of young people began submitting applications for deferred deportation including an estimated 13,000 at Chicago's Navy Pier. (WBEZ/Peter Holderness)
This month, tens of thousands of young unauthorized immigrants began applying to a program that will allow them to live and work legally in the United States.
The Department of Homeland Security estimates that 1 million people will apply this year for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program – announced by President Obama on June 15. Overall, up to about 1.75 million people may be eligible for the program.
Registration began August 15, and young immigrants across the country wasted no time enrolling. At one informational seminar at Navy Pier in Chicago, there were 4,000 people in line by 3 a.m. A total of 13,000 people signed up for the Navy Pier event that day. Some people were turned away because of concerns about overcrowding.
One 29-year-old registrant who had been waiting hours to sign up for the program was undeterred by the bureaucratic delay. "I've waited 17 years - practically my entire life for this - so I don't mind waiting," she said.
DACA provides a two-year grant of reprieve from deportation as well as work authorization for unauthorized immigrants who were under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012. It does not provide a path to citizenship or access to any taxpayer-funded benefits. To participate, applicants must pay $465 in fees and meet the following criteria:
- Entered the United States before the age of 16
- Have continuously resided in the United States for five consecutive years (since June 15,2007) up to the present time, and were physically present in the country both on June 15, 2012, and at the time of application
- Are currently in school, have graduated from high school or earned a GED, or have been honorably discharged
- Have not been convicted of a felony, a significant misdemeanor, three or more misdemeanors, or otherwise pose a threat to public safety or national security
- Became unauthorized immigrants (entered the country illegally or overstayed their visa) prior to June 15, 2012
As one analyst has noted, in a vacuous political campaigning season, DACA has the potential to truly change people’s lives. Without DACA hundreds of thousands of young people faced stunted aspirations and a life consigned to grey market, low-wage employment. Now they have the chance to harness their visions and capabilities to shape their own future.
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