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DHS launches young immigrant program

Wednesday - 8/15/2012, 6:15am  ET

AP: c91ee20c-5cd6-4655-bd9a-dcaa62991a58
Mayra Rivera, center, with her children, Aixa Martinez, 18, left, and Aryam Rivera, right, from Philadelphia, wait inside the Embassy of Honduras Consulate Section in Washington, Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2012. Starting Wednesday, young illegal immigrants can apply to avoid deportation. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

At least 1,000 expected to apply locally to stay in U.S.

WTOP's Andrew Mollenbeck reports from Langley Park.

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Andrew Mollenbeck, wtop.com

LANGLEY PARK, Md. - Beginning Wednesday, young illegal immigrants can fill out forms and pay $465 if they want to apply under a new program that would let them avoid deportation and obtain a U.S. work permit.

The change in immigration policy, an initiative of the Obama Administration, will have an immediate and visible impact in the Washington region, where as many as 50,000 people may be eligible.

"Right over here today, you are going to see 1,000 'Dreamers' waiting in line," says Gustavo Torres, the executive director of Casa de Maryland.

At its headquarters in Langley Park, a team of volunteers is prepared to assist applicants with the process. The community organization will repeat its efforts on Thursday in Baltimore. Torres says the plan is to help qualified applicants twice each week.

"We are super excited," he says. "They are going to go to college, they are going to get work authorization, they are going to pay taxes."

The government has renewed warnings that the process won't lead to citizenship or give qualified applicants permission to travel internationally.

The paperwork for the program, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, can be downloaded from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website.

Under guidelines that the administration announced Tuesday, the agency said proof of identity and eligibility under the program could include a passport or birth certificate, school transcripts, medical and financial records and military service records. DHS said that in some instances, multiple sworn affidavits, signed by a third party under penalty of perjury, could also be used.

As for the $465 fee, Casa de Maryland says money should not be an issue. It's employing a loan program that allows applicants to pay over time.

What Torres called the "$1 million question" is when applicants may actually receive their work authorization. He estimates three or four months.

Immigrants have been warned not to leave the country while their application is pending. If they are allowed to stay in the United States and want to travel internationally, they will need to apply for permission to come back into the country, a request that would cost $360 more.

The administration announced the plan in June to stop deporting many illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. To be eligible, immigrants must prove they arrived in the United States before they turned 16, are 30 or younger, have been living here at least five years, and are in school or graduated or served in the military. They also cannot have been convicted of certain crimes or otherwise pose a safety threat.

Critics of the program, including House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, have called the policy backdoor amnesty and say they worry about fraud.

"While potentially millions of illegal immigrants will be permitted to compete with American workers for scarce jobs, there seems to be little if any mechanism in place for vetting fraudulent applications and documentation submitted by illegal immigrants," Smith said Tuesday.

A document obtained by The Associated Press estimated that the program could cost between $467.7 million and $585.4 million. The department anticipated collecting about $484.2 in fees.

The Associated Press' Alicia A. Caldwell contributed to this story. Follow Andrew and WTOP on Twitter.

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(Copyright 2012 by AP and WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)