(WASHINGTON) — After a lifetime of fearing deportation, being banned for legal work and fighting to stay in the country they grew up in, thousands and thousands of young undocumented immigrants could soon get a reprieve as the federal government begins accepting applications for deferred action permits on Wednesday.
Immigrants who are under the age of 31 and were brought into the country before their 16th birthdays are eligible for the permits, which will allow them to stay in the country legally for two years. According to the Migration Policy Institute, up to 1.76 million could be eligible.
“I have been waiting for this day and will be in line early,” Jose Cabrera, a 23-year-old undocumented immigrant from Mexico, told ABC’s Gina Sunseri in Houston. “I hope this means someday I can be a real citizen.”
In order to receive the deferred action permit, immigrants have to either be currently enrolled in school or have a high school diploma or GED. Honorably discharged veterans are also eligible to apply. Felons and people with more than three misdemeanors will not be given permits, according to the policy.
The price tag for a two-year exemption from deportation is a hefty one for many — $465 per application. A non-profit group in Houston, Protectors of the Dream, announced on Tuesday that they would be awarding 10 to 25 grants to cover the application fee for some Houston-area immigrants.
“This generation of young scholars and activists that has come to be known as the Dream Act generation is amazing,” Jacob Monty, who’s with the Monty & Ramirez law firm, one of the founders of the group, said in a statement.
“We are inspiring our business and professional community to lend the resources, skills, and vision to this cause to lobby for more profound immigration reform and to be witness to how this administration and future administrations treat our young as they step out of the shadows to attempt to take part in the American Dream. We want to start by alleviating the burden of filing fees for DREAMERS,” he said.
Under the new policy, so-called “dreamers” would be granted legal status and work permits, but not a path to citizenship or the right to vote.
In June, President Obama announced the measure, igniting a hailstorm of controversy.
Republican leaders in Congress blasted the policy as out-of-touch with the harsh job market U.S. citizens already face.
“[The] 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,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R., Texas) told ABC News when the policy was announced.
Applications will be reviewed on an individual, case-by-case basis. It is unclear how long each review will take.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Kevin Liptak, Antoine Sanfuentes & Jackie Wattles, CNN Newswire
Eric Bradner, CNN Newswire