Bolivia native Ingrid Vaca took her two teenage boys to speak with an immigration lawyer during an event in Washington — one of hundreds of workshops and immigration clinics across the country — to start the application process for temporary relief from deportation and for work authorizations.
Tugging her oldest son's laptops close to her chest, the 49-year-old Virginia resident says the new immigration program for undocumented youths is the biggest gift that her family has received since arriving to the U.S. 12 years ago on a six-month visa.
When she heard President Obama had authorized a temporary relief in in June for young undocumented children who had arrived to the country before age 16, she dropped to her knees and began to pray out loud.
"I gave thanks to God because that's huge," she said fighting back tears. On Wednesday, the first day to apply for the new immigration program, she joined thousands across the country in free or low-cost workshops and immigration clinics for immigrant youths and their families to get information or to apply for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which could benefit an estimated 1.7 million young undocumented immigrants.
The event Vaca and her boys attended was hosted by United We Dream in the headquarters of the National Immigration Forum; two attorneys were on hand to help the two dozen youths who showed up.
Meanwhile, at the Casa de Maryland, a community organization in Langley Park that helps immigrants, about 100 people stood outside the building after 9 p.m., well after volunteers had announced no more people would be seen that day. One volunteer said people began camping out at 4 a.m. for services that started at 5:30 p.m.
Executive director Gustavo Torres said Casa de Maryland had anticipated about 10,000 applicants for the Maryland area in the next three months, but he now thinks those numbers could be higher. He said his team expects to hire more volunteer coordinators who help organize and train volunteers, who include attorneys, social workers, and others from the community.
In a way, the new immigration program is a second chance for many youths who had become frustrated at the thought of completing high school, college or even graduate school and still feeling uncertain of their career prospects in the U.S.
Ivan Rosales, 23, who was born in Mexico and is undocumented, was recently admitted to New York University's bioethics master's program with a partial scholarship. He hopes to become a doctor. He said he will work two or three jobs, if necessary, to pay for school since he's not eligible for federal or state financial aid for school.
Nadya D. Maldonado and Johanna M. Torres, friends and bilingual attorneys, said they volunteered at Casa de Maryland because they want to see others realize their educational goals, just as they had in becoming lawyers. "Her mother worked in the fields to put her through law school," Torres said of Maldonado.
"We want to help others achieve their goals," Maldonado explained.
Jill Casner-Lotto director of the Community College Consortium for Immigrant Education, said the deferred action initiative could potentially increase enrollment at community colleges, and courage other to stay in high school.
"And the potential to work legally and openly could make a big difference [since] those enrolling in community colleges would have greater means to support their education," she said in an email.
Immigration officials have said they don't have an estimated time of how long it could take the agency to make a decision on a case. The volume of applications, and the manner they get to their desks will determine the processing time, said a representative during a webinar hosted Wednesday by the League of United Latin American Citizens.
Diego Mariaca, one of Vaca's sons plans to go to culinary school when he graduates from high school next year. "This means a lot. It means we're going to be able to drive, to go to school, and work to support our families," he said.