Today, hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants can apply for temporary work permits under President Barack Obama's deferred action initiative. That figure includes tens of thousands of New Yorkers, many of whom applied on Wednesday.
Antonio Alarcon, 18, came to New York from Mexico with his parents when he was 11 years old. He was among about 20 who lined up outside the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services field office in Long Island City, Queens, Wednesday morning to apply for deferred action.
"I feel more American,” he said. “I think this is my country a many other kids do in the United States."
This fall, he'll be starting at La Guardia Community College where he plans to study journalism.
Juan Fernandois also hopes to go back to school. He handed in his application for deferred action in Queens. The 30-year old has been in the country for more than 15 years and worked jobs that ranged from cleaning to carpentry to carpet installation. If he’s approved, he plans on hitting the books.
“A lot of people are dreaming of going back to school and they can’t because of their immigration status. Now it’s just a dream come true.”
His dream is to study to become a nurse.
Around 400 potential applicants, some waiting since 6 a.m., sought legal advice at a clinic taking place at Saint Mary's Church on Grand Street.
One of them was 25-year-old Jhodie Williams. She came to the U.S. from Jamaica through the Canadian border and currently works as a nanny. She left City College in the spring of 2010, when she was a junior, to save up money to complete her education. As she filled out her pre-screening form before meeting an attorney, Williams said she felt very hopeful.
"It really changes things emotionally for me," she said. "Before President Obama's statement all of us, including myself, have been in this dark tunnel. And now with this small change we suddenly have different options."
Williams said one of the first things she planned on doing, if granted deferred action, was to get a driver's license.
Duvan Diaz, 21, came to the U.S. from Colombia with his mother 10 years ago and overstayed his visa. As he waited to meet with an attorney on Wednesday, he said he woke up feeling energized and was now “pretty confident” about his chances of being granted deferred action.
“It will change my life completely,” he said, “because now that I have many doors that will open for me.”
Diaz is a senior at City College, studying radiology, and he said he hoped to start working in a clinic and then slowly building toward what he described as his American Dream.
“This means that I can buy my own house. I could live on my own,” he said. “I could support a family.”
Unlike the Dream Act, which failed in the Senate in 2010, deferred action does not offer a path to citizenship. But it does allow undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children a two year reprieve from deportation and a chance to work legally.
To qualify, undocumented immigrants must have arrived in the U.S. before their 16th birthday, be between the ages of 15 and 31, have lived here for five years and be either in school or have graduated. They must not have been convicted of a serious crime.
The City Council announced Wednesday that the city is spending $3 million on legal services for young illegal immigrants who want to apply for the right to work legally in the U.S.
Althea Chang and Mirela Iverac contributed reporting