CHICAGO (CBS) — Thousands of young people who were brought into the country illegally got the opportunity on Wednesday to apply to live and work in the United States legally.
The line of people–who have been living in the shadows illegally in Illinois for years–stretched for over a mile. Some arrived at Navy Pier at 2:30 a.m. to secure a place in line.
If you ever wanted a snapshot of the size and scope of the immigration problem in the nation, and in Chicago, this was it.
The crowd was so large, thousands were turned away.
CBS 2’s Derrick Blakley reports some said, for one day, Navy Pier reminded them of another waterside immigration center: Ellis Island.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Regine Schlesinger Reports
Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd) said, “I knew we would have a great turnout, but I am thoroughly surprised by the lines we have here – people just dreaming to become a part of the U.S.”
Wednesday was DREAM Relief Day – the day on which immigrants brought to the country illegally as children can begin applying for temporary residence and work permits in the United States. It would allow them to go to college, get a driver’s license, and work in the country.
U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Chicago) said, “Those things are important. The first and most important thing is to say, you won’t be deported from the United States.”
The program provides protection from deportation for two years, but does not offer a path to citizenship or legal permanent resident status. It’s all part of an executive action taken by President Barack Obama after the DREAM Act — which provided similar benefits to young illegal immigrants, plus a path to citizenship or legal resident status — failed to pass in Congress.
“This is the beginning, it’s not the end,” Gutierrez said.
Eighteen-year-old lane tech grad Daniela Rodriguez, whose mother brought her to Chicago from Mexico when she was five, was among those who lined up at Navy Pier to enroll in the program. She said she’s been unable to get a job because of her status as an illegal immigrant.
“I’ve been trying to get a job, but of course I can’t. I’ve tried getting a license, but I can’t. So I’m hoping this will really change, and help me out.”
On June 15, President Barack Obama issued an executive order halting the deportation of immigrants who were born after June 15, 1981, arrived in the United States before age 16, have been in the country continuously for five years or more, and have no criminal record.
At Navy Pier Wednesday, hundreds of people affected by the DREAM Relief Act lined up for assistance from attorneys in getting their work permits, at an event sponsored by the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.
“Living illegally has been hard,” said Brenda, 23, who has been in this country since she was 10. “It’s easy when you are in elementary school and junior high, but once you plan to go to college and actually get a job … to support your family, it’s very hard.”
She said allowing her the opportunity to live her legally is only fair. There are an estimated 90,000 people who may be eligible for the program in Illinois.
“We didn’t have a choice on whether or not to come here,” Brenda told WBBM Newsradio’s Regine Schlesinger. “So I feel if we were raised here, we deserve has much as people who were born here.”
Twenty-three-year-old Edgar Lara, who arrived here from Mexico at age 3, said he drives without a license to get to his shipping job. Deportation is always on his mind.
“You’re driving somewhere, you see a cop, you get scared, you’re thinking about it. You’re at work, you’re scared, you’re thinking about it,” he said.
Up to 1,500 applicants were processed on Wednesday. Thousands more were turned away because there wasn’t enough room or time to sign them all up.
Elected officials and immigration groups have been setting up other application workshops.
One is set for Benito Juarez High School next Tuesday night.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel and other elected officials also announced some $250,000 in private donations that will help some young undocumented immigrants complete their education.
Emanuel was joined by U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) to announce the private donations to the Illinois DREAM Fund.
The donations bring the total to $275,000 in private funding set aside to help nearly 100 DREAM youth to complete their first year in the City Colleges of Chicago’s College to Career program, so they can learn the skills that meet the demands of careers that are growing in Chicago and around the country.