PORTLAND -- For the first time, nearly two million young illegal immigrants across the country can apply to stay in the country and get a work permit. The program is called deferred action for childhood arrivals.
In Oregon, some 16,000 people were expected to apply for the program.
Outside the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement building in Portland, dozens of people lined up Wednesday morning.
Young people brought to the United States illegally can now apply to stay in the country and get work permits.
One of those applicants was 19-year-old Hugo Nicolas from Salem. He came illegally from Mexico when he was 11 years old.
“If I want to improve my life and have a better life, it’s always a risk,” Nicolas said.
The new policy will allow undocumented young immigrants like Nicolas to legally stay in the country for at least two years and get a work permit.
“This will give me a chance to work in some type of field related to my major and as well give me a chance to save money to go to school and do things I’ve been never been able to do,” Nicholas said.
The program applies to those who were brought to the u-s when they were under 16 and have lived in the country for at least five years. Those who qualify must be enrolled in school or graduated. They can't have a criminal record and must be 30 or younger.
“We know that it is not a permanent solution, we know there is still lot of work to do, but we are excited to have the youth in the forefront to getting that permanent solution,” Luis Guerra, CAUSA, Oregon’s statewide immigrant rights organization said.
"Miriam" - who only wants to be identified by her first name - dropped off her application at the post office Wednesday morning. She said the opportunity is a dream come true.
“I think it’s going to change a lot of peoples’ lives for the better, not just applicants but their families, their friends, their community and I think that’s why we’re all doing this," Miriam said.
For this aspiring economist, this paperwork is the first step to a new life. A new beginning.
“It’s hard to breathe, it’s really exciting and it just feels like a lot of hope and a lot of doors will open,” Nicolas said.
Opponents say this new policy is unconstitutional and unfair to immigrants who went through the right process. But supporters say this reform is a major victory.