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Young immigrants full of optimism, nerves at deferred action workshop

Young people thier families stood out hot sun Friday August 24 2012 front World Relief Dupage Wheatso they could apply

Young people and thier families stood out in the hot sun on Friday August 24, 2012 in front of World Relief Dupage in Wheaton so they could apply for Deferred Action, a two-year deferral of deportation proceedings for qualifying 15-30 year-olds. | Katherine Peters~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: September 27, 2012 11:21AM

WHEATON — It may not be the perfect situation but the possibility of gaining the right to legally work, drive, and not worry about being deported for the next two years was enough to lure hundreds of people to line up outside World Relief’s DuPage County offices Friday afternoon.

“We came at 7:30 (a.m.)” said Karina Trujilla, a high school senior from Chicago. “I just want to start college soon, get a job, a better future.”

In June, President Obama announced that young people who have been in the U.S. the past five years and who were brought to the country before their 16th birthdays would be eligible for work permits and a deferred action on any deportation proceedings for two years.

But the paperwork to apply for the deferred action is plentiful, and scams are common, so World Relief held a Deferred Action Workshop with immigration lawyers and certified staff on hand to counsel would-be applicants.

“I’m in school and it’s almost time to graduate,” said Emmanuel, a fine arts student a Northeastern University and a Chicago resident.

He said he’s most concerned with getting a work permit. “I have big plans in life, and it’s like I’ve waited all my life for a little piece of paper,” he said.

Antonio, a Carpentersville resident, said he’s hoping to expand his business, and thinks temporary legal status will help him get a driver’s license and other essentials.

“I want to get papers to work,” he said. “I’m a little bit nervous that I brought all the right information.”

He wasn’t the only nervous person in line.

“I am nervous,” said Deedee, born in Cameroon and now living in Skokie. “I’m especially nervous for the next election, and whether this is ever going to pass as a law. I’m very worried about that.”

While the policy out of the Obama administration buys the young immigrants some time and allows them to work legally in the U.S., it is still unclear what will happen when those two years are up. And should a new president be elected this November, immigration policies could change overnight.

“I think they’re courageous,” said Emily Gray, executive director of World Relief DuPage. “This is a memorandum and not a law. We need good law and we don’t have it yet.”

Until that happens, Gray said, World Relief will be working with undocumented young people to help them process paperwork and avoid scam artists, many who pose as lawyers and notaries and promise to help undocumented people gain work visas in exchange for large sums.

“There are so many ripoffs,” said Ana Zacatzi, from West Chicago, who said she ran into a scammer just a few days after Obama’s announcement. “It was even before they had any paperwork out. He said ‘I’ll charge $2,000 and you’ll be ahead.’”

Gray stressed that, so far, the federal government has not placed a deadline on young people looking to apply for deferred action, and that people should consult a lawyer who specializes in immigration before applying.

The World Relief workshop is the second such event in the Chicagoland area. On Aug. 15, the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights expected 1,500 at its workshop on Navy Pier. More than 13,000 showed up.

On Friday, World Relief expected to have to turn away applicants later into the afternoon.

“We were expecting and tried to build all the pieces we’d need for 200 applicants,” said Gray. “We know the need is greater than that.”

On Sept. 20, World Relief Aurora will have another workshop from 1 to 5 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church, 325 E. Downer Place in Aurora. For information, including detailed instructions on what to bring to complete paperwork, call 630-264-3171.

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