The Obama administration is preparing for applications later this month from undocumented immigrants seeking work permits and a stay of deportation.
Immigration officials on Friday released guidelines and said they will be charging $465 for temporary work permits for these immigrants. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which will handle the process, said it will begin accepting applications Aug. 15. The permits will be granted for two years and be subject to renewal.
The agency says it would grant a limited number of fee exemptions but the costs are expected to be shouldered by applicants, not taxpayers. The total cost of the program will depend on how many people apply.
President Barack Obama announced the plan's broad outlines in June. Immigrants must have arrived in the United States before their 16th birthday, be 30 or younger, lived in the U.S. at least five years, and been in school, graduated or served in the military.
The objective was to temporarily exempt these immigrants from deportation -- a step that could benefit 800,000 to 1.4 million people.
"It's a temporary measure," Obama said then, "that lets us focus our resources wisely while offering some justice to these young people."
Obama took this step after efforts to pass the DREAM Act, which would give immigrants who brought as minors a chance to gain legal immigration status, failed to pass in Congress. Many Republicans in Congress have vowed never to support measures that would, as they put it, reward law-breakers.
Rep. Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican who is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and is hawkish on immigration, said in a statement: “Today’s deferred action guidance is another example of how the President’s policies put the interests of illegal immigrants ahead of the interests of U.S. citizens and legal immigrants."
"This will lead to a backlog for legal immigrants who followed the rules, while allowing lawbreakers to skip to the front of the line."
Those who support the measure say that undocumented immigrants who were brought as minors had no say in their parents' decision to break immigration laws and should not be penalized for the acts of others.
Immigration advocacy organizations are encouraging people who qualify for "deferred action," as it is called, to apply. But at the same time they are warning undocumented immigrants to get as much information as they can about the process to make sure they are eligible before they put themselves on the government radar.
This week, Rep. Luis Gutierrez -- an Illinois Democrat who has been among the most vocal proponents in Congress for giving undocumented immigrants who were brought as children a way to legalize -- warned about scams.
"I encourage them to take this step, and I want them to know that help and resources are available," said Gutierrez on the House floor. "But first – a warning. Any progress on immigration is soon followed by some unscrupulous attempts to make money off of the backs of deserving immigrants. So I say to my friends today – be careful."
"Some immigration attorneys, some neighborhood 'notarios,' or others may try to take advantage of you. But there is no reason that applying for relief through President Obama’s use of prosecutorial discretion should be expensive or cumbersome. If someone says the only way for a DREAMer to apply is to write a big check, my advice to DREAMers is they should run the other direction. They’re being lied to."
The congressman, however, called the Obama administration's decision to give DREAMers relief from deportation a step in the right direction.
"On August 15, across America, honest and hard-working and law-abiding Dream Act eligible young immigrants should be celebrating by lining up and taking that historic step toward equality," he said.
This story contains material from The Associated Press.
Elizabeth Llorente can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on https://twitter.com/Liz_Llorente