Samuel Carrasco was only 6 when his parents put him in the trunk of their car and drove across the U.S. border into Texas. He had no choice then, but 17 years later he does -- and he's taking advantage of it.
Carrasco, 23 of Wheaton, was one of several hundred people who stood in line for hours Friday at World Relief DuPage/Aurora headquarters in Wheaton to participate in a workshop to ensure he successfully qualifies for the recently announced Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
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Acceptance could take several months, but once the process is complete, Carrasco expects to be able to obtain a U.S. work permit without threat of deportation.
"This is very important because this is an opportunity given to us and we're very appreciative. Some of us have been waiting for this for all of our lives," he said. "To have some sort of recognition in the United States, and not just be a nobody, is very important. We grew up here and we want to live the American dream and contribute to society. I want to work legally so I can provide for my daughter and my family."
A decision on each application could take several months, and 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. The Obama 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 U.S. 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.
World Relief DuPage/Aurora Executive Director Emily Gray said the organization hosted the workshop, staffed with volunteer attorneys and volunteers certified by the Board of Immigration appeals, to help illegal immigrants determine if they qualify for the program and, if so, help them complete the application process.
"If they run a red light, they're not likely to get sent back to a country that many of them never lived in as anything but infants. And there is a process under which they can get a legal work authorization card so they can work legally during the two-year deferment," Gray said. "They won't have to be concerned if there is an ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) raid where they're working and get deported."
For siblings Hector, 21, and Evelyn Gutierrez, 18, of Woodridge, a successful application means an opportunity to further their educations and have successful careers. They were brought over from Mexico by their parents when they were 8 and 5 respectively.
"I like to think we're living a normal life right now even though we don't get those privileges that people born here do. We can get higher education but not having a social security number means not being able to apply for grants," Hector said. "But if this works, we can finish our educations, get jobs to pay back our loans and drive without fear of being caught by the police without a driver's license."
World Relief will sponsor a second workshop on Sept. 20 at First Presbyterian Church, 325 E. Downer Place in Aurora.