If the turnout at yesterday’s Dream Relief Day workshops around the country were any indication, President Obama’s plan to give undocumented immigrants the chance to get a two-year reprieve from deportation is a huge hit.
By the thousands, people flocked to locations in places like Chicago and Los Angeles to fill out paperwork to begin the process of applying for legal protection to stay in the U.S. for two more years. The organizers of the events weren’t even prepared for the size of the crowds.
While critics of the president’s plan will paint it as back-door amnesty or a cynical political ploy to solidify Latino votes, the people who showed up for the workshops clearly saw it as something else: a lifesaver. And the numbers once again demonstrated that though the nation has been experiencing some hard time of late, there are still many people who are drawn by the opportunities and the hope of America.
The workshops featured attorneys and immigration experts advising people on how to fill out the applications for the protected status.
One of the largest events took place in Chicago at the Navy Pier, where thousands lined up for the workshops.
“I’ve been here since 7 a.m.,” Daniel Villa, 18, told the Chicago Tribune. “I’ll wait six hours if I have to. I’m not going anywhere; I’ve waited too long for this.” Villa said he wants to use the federal work authorization to become a nurse.
An estimated 1.2 million people around the country are eligible for the program. About 13,000 of them came to the event in Chicago—about double the number the organizers were able to accommodate, to the extreme disappointment of the people who were turned away.
“This is what history looks like!” U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., told the cheering crowd. Durbin was one of several politicians who attended.
“The people who say undocumented immigrants don’t really want to be part of this country will have to rethink that when they see hundreds of thousands or maybe a million young people come forward to sign-up in the coming weeks and months,” said a statement by Illinois Rep. Luis Gutierrez, Chairman of the Immigration Task Force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. “This is going to help break through the political obstacles blocking broader, permanent immigration reform because this demonstrates that when people are given a chance to get in the system and on the books, they will take it. We need to find a way for the parents and neighbors of these young people to come forward too and to establish a legal immigration system that will restore dignity, legality, and humanity to our immigration system.”
The official name of President Obama’s initiative is Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, but the president calls it a “stopgap measure” since Congress failed to pass the DREAM Act legislation that would provide conditional legal status to students and U.S. military personnel.