In Chicago, more than 5,000 people stood in line at Navy Pier to fill out applications and attend workshops on the first day undocumented immigrants could apply for deferred status and a temporary work visa under the Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
The first family arrived at around 5pm the night before, organizers said. The day was billed as the so called “Dream Relief Day,” in reference to the temporary deportation relief policy President Barack Obama announced in June for young undocumented immigrants who have arrived in the United States before age 16 and are younger than 30.
But for many it was a day of confusion, as undocumented youth pulled together records from the countries of their birth, assessed possible stains on their criminal records and lined up by the thousands at forums across the country, where experts and attorneys led them through a process that, if mishandled, could inadvertently land them in deportation proceedings.
The threat of deportation is real – there is no such thing as a zero percent chance that it won’t happen.
- Lauren Burke, Immigration Attorney
In New York City, pro-bono lawyers and the NYSYLC, an undocumented youth led organization, have been spending the day educating hundreds who had lined up in St. Mary's Church to get their questions answered.
“In the past 3 hours we’ve seen about 100 people,” said Lauren Burke, the Director of the non-profit ATLASDIY and an immigration lawyer. “I definitely think there is confusion.”
Burke has answered a slew of questions mostly from young people who, she says, have come with the knowledge that they qualify. However, she is warning families to take their time with the application, gather all of the necessary documents, and to get some counsel with a pro-bono lawyer or a paid one before submitting the paperwork.
She advises people to watch this video, if they do it on their own.
Many had expressed a real concern that perceived minor criminal infractions that could result in deportation.
“If you have anything more than a jumped turnstile or driving ticket on your record you should get some legal advice,” said Burke, who says her pro-bono lawyers are booked until September. She recommends that those with felonies should not apply.
“The threat of deportation is real – there is no such thing as a zero percent chance that it won’t happen,” she said.
Though there is no official deadline given for applications, Burke recommends people apply before November 6.
“If the election goes the other way were not sure if the program will continue,” she added.
The new deportation policy takes effect as a group of undocumented activists take a cross-country ride from Arizona to the Democratic Convention in North Carolina, raising awareness of the problems faced by the country’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants.
Calling their ride the “Undocubus,” the activists openly flaunt their immigration status with the slogan “Undocumented and Unafraid.” By coming out of the shadows, the activists hope to pressure politicians.
One of the Undocubus passengers, Ireri Unzueta says she’s still just beginning the process of applying for deferred deportation.
Born in Mexico, Unzueta, 25, came to the United States when she was 7 and now lives in Chicago where she works as a grantwriter and volunteers her time doing education workshops with the immigrant community.
Anxious to take advantage of Obama’s change to deportation policy, she’s got her passport and birth certificate ready, but is having trouble getting her school transcripts.
“I’m still in the first phase,” Unzueta told Fox News Latino.
As an immigrant rights activist, Unzueta also had an additional worry: she had to make sure her three arrests at protests wouldn’t count as crimes. She says she was arrested in Washington, New York and Chicago, but in Washington she was never charged with a crime, in New York the charges were dropped and in Chicago she was found not guilty.
But despite the uncertainty of a program that has yet to be tested, Unzueta is pushing ahead with her application, with the help of the National Immigrant Justice Center in Chicago.
For Unzueta, the policy represents a victory for activists like herself, but
“ICE still has a goal of deporting 400,000 people per year,” she said, referring to the record-high level of deportations that have taken place under Obama, though he describes himself as a reform advocate and openly supports the DREAM Act.
Unzueta noted that DREAM Act activists had gotten themselves detained on purpose to infiltrate the Broward detention center in Florida, where they said undocumented youth were being held despite Obama’s new policy.
“It’s one step in a long journey,” Unzueta said of the reform put in place Wednesday. “It’s important that we keep on organizing.”
Get more information on the process below.
Visit uscis.gov for application.
Visit www.weownthedream.org to determine your eligibility.
Text “ownit” to 877877 for latest alerts and updates on deferred action.
Call 1-800-DREAM-D-1 for information about deferred action.
Bryan Llenas currently serves as a New York-based correspondent for Fox News Channel (FNC) and a reporter for Fox News Latino (FNL).
Follow him on Twitter @BryanLlenas.