Young undocumented immigrants in San Diego County and across the country became eligible Wednesday to apply for a program allowing them to avoid deportation, attend school or work.
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Nearly 2 million young immigrants are potentially eligible for the Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, including an estimated 20,000 in San Diego County.
Immigration officials said only a few prospective applicants appeared at immigration offices in San Diego today to apply for the program. More than 10,000 showed up to an event in Chicago, and hundreds lined up outside an immigration services offices in Los Angeles.
Under the plan, eligible young undocumented immigrants who pay a $465 application fee and receive approval from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will be given legal authorization to work and a two-year deferral from deportation.
The work permit allows the immigrants to apply for Social Security numbers and driver's licenses, open bank accounts and secure other benefits.
To be eligible, immigrants must be younger than 31 and have arrived in the United States before age 16. They must also have no criminal record. Education requirements that were part of the original wording of the plan were removed on Tuesday.
A coalition of immigrant-rights groups announced Wednesday that there will be three workshops on Friday to provide help in filling out the application. They are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. at MiraCosta College in Oceanside, Montgomery Middle School in the Linda Vista section of San Diego and Sweetwater High School in National City.
Immigration attorneys will be available to provide help to prospective applicants. The San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium plans to hold similar events in the future.
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals plan is a lighter version of the heavily debated DREAM Act, which failed in Congress in 2010 and would have granted immediate legal status to undocumented youths. During the deferral period, young immigrants can get their affairs in order in preparation for trying to secure U.S. citizenship.
Critics of the Deferred Action plan, including most Republicans, argue it will create a backlog for U.S. Citizens and Immigrant Services and impose a further financial strain on the country. Proponents fire back that the $465 application fee will help offset the plan's financial impact.
Forms are posted at www.uscis.gov/childhoodarrivals
and can be filed online. But immigration attorney Jacob Saposchnick said that applicants should not rush to file without receiving some guidance.
"If you miss something on the form, if you don't do it correctly, that's it, it's over," he said. "There's no way to appeal it."
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