Beginning Wednesday, illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children can apply for two-year temporary reprieve from deportation.
The new legislation, similar to the Dream Act, allows nearly 2 million young people to apply for temporary protection to stay and work in the U.S. legally.
On Wednesday, U.S. Rep. David Rivera held a workshop to help immigrants file the correct paperwork for deferred action.
Many who came, like Dario Lado, said the process was may be their only way to stay.
"Well, I'm currently at FIU trying to finish my bachelor's degree in communication and arts, and it's difficult to be here and, you know, you can't really apply for many scholarships," said Lado.
The 21-year-old is an undocumented immigrant who came to the U.S. as a child with his parents when he was 12. Today, he's an adult who could be deported at any time.
Alessandra Benavides and Grethel Zegarra came to the U.S. as children, too. Both from Lima, Peru, Zagarra was 11 years old at the time; she's now 21.Benavides was 9 years old; she's now 19.
"My parents just told me we are coming here to see Mickey Mouse and all of a sudden I was somewhere where all the signs were in English," said Benavides, who is studying at FUI. "I've grown up here. I went to elementary, middle school, high school. I'm going to college. Who knows what God has in store for me but at this moment I would stay here if it was my choice."
Zegarra attends Florida Memorial University where she studies biology.
"I went to ask my parents, 'Am I a resident?'" said Zegarra. "And they were like no but don't worry the law is going to change and you are going to be able to get your papers and every year I would talk to my dad, 'Dad, is the law going to change?' and the law never changed."
"It's not fair, it's not fair because you do all the work and it's not your fault your parents brought you here because they wanted a future for you," added Zegarra. "And I would have done the same thing because if I am living in another country and I don't see the best future for my children, of course I am going to go to another country and the country for us was here."
That's why they and dozens of others packed Rivera's office to file for deferred action, which allows young workers and scholars to remain in the country for two years until a permanent solution is worked out.
"I don't want to go back to my country. It's been really hard for me to start here when I came here at the age of 12," said Lado. "My goal, my dream is to stay here."
"This process will provide a temporary period of security and the opportunity to work legally in the United States," said Rivera. "It's a positive move forward, but much more needs to be done."
Some people feel the next step should be the Dream Act, a controversial piece of legislation that would grant permanent residency to immigrants who pursue college or join the U.S. military. The idea has stalled in Congress, leaving young immigrants with few choices.
Daniela Pelaez is a North Miami valedictorian who was given deportation orders earlier this year than granted a temporary reprieve. Wednesday, she gave advice to those on a road she has already walked.
"So I continue to fight for them and give them advice and that's why I'm here today, because I know that not everybody is as fortunate as I have been," said Pelaez.
How to apply
Applying for Deferred Action is a lengthy process.
Immigration attorney Nera Shefer advises college students to use their college address on their deferred action forms and to send the completed packet to the United States Citizenship and immigrations Services address that corresponds to the student's college address. Shefer said that is because the process involves having to visit an immigration officer in person for fingerprinting. That appointment is based on the zip code used on the forms.
If a college student were to use their parent's Florida address, but currently attend school in a different state, that would require them to fly back to Florida to complete the process.
Shefer also told Local 10 it is unclear how long it will take for a work permit to be issued at this time. She also said USCIS advised her that they will not be sharing the information received with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement. With a presidential election looming, Shefer also said changes to this policy down the road won't impact whomever applies now.
The criteria for immigrants to apply for deferred action is as follows:
- Applicant must have been under 31 years old as of June 15, 2012
- Applicant must have come to the U.S. before reaching his/her 16th birthday
- Applicant must have continuously resided in the U.S. from June 15, 2007 to the present time
- Applicant must have been physically present in the U.S. on June 15, 2012 and at the time of making the request for deferred action with USCIS
- Applicant must currently be in school, have graduated or obtained a certificate of completion from high school, have obtained a GED, or be an honorably discharged veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces or Coast Guard
- Applicant must not have been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, or three or more misdemeanors, and must not otherwise pose a threat to public safety
The cost for the work permit application and fingerprints is $465.