CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – The turnout for Wednesday’s Dream Relief workshop in Chicago was so strong that organizers began turning people away.
Locals know the venue as Navy Pier, but Rep. Luis Gutierrez called it something different.
“Navy Pier is today’s Ellis Island. And while they saw New York City, today, they see Chicago,” Gutierrez said.
The line of undocumented students wrapped around Navy Pier and at one point across the Chicago River to apply for deferred action to allow them, at least in the short-term, not to worry about deportation. Organizers estimated the turnout at more than 11,000 young people.
“This is what America’s about. This is what their parents came to this country for,” said Laurence Benito, CEO of the Illinois Coalition for Immigration and Refugee Rights.
Following a major immigration policy change about two months ago, the Dream Relief workshop helps children who were illegally brought into the United States apply for a work permit and even a driver’s license.
Five thousand people initially signed up for the workshop, and as the 9 a.m. start time came and went, the crowds kept filing toward the lake. Organizers said they would be able to provide full services for 1,500 people today and partial services to another 6,000.
“This shows that a lot of us actually want to get ahead in life. It’s just that for a couple numbers, Social Security card, we can’t do anything,” said one applicant who didn’t want to be named because of her undocumented status.
The new policy announced by President Barack Obama this summer took effect Wednesday and will allow more than 75,000 young undocumented immigrants in Illinois and 1.7 million across the country the temporary right to live and work openly in the United States.
“It’s an opportunity that we’ve been waiting for basically for a really long time,” said applicant Edalid Miranda, “and finally it’s here.”
The program is open to applicants ages 15 to 31 who came to the country before they were 16 years old and have lived in the U.S. for the past five years.
Registrants were required to bring a proof of identity, as well as documentation of enrollment in school or honorable discharge from the Armed Forces. Registrants must not have been convicted of a felony, a significant misdemeanor or multiple misdemeanor offenses. Full details and restrictions are listed at dreamrelief.org.
“A lot of dreams are going to be accomplished by this,” said Christian Lopez.
The day was also a big one for Sen. Dick Durbin and Gutierrez, who have championed this cause in Washington, and also Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who stopped by to announce $250,000 in private funding for the DREAM Relief program, mostly leftover from NATO.
“Many of us who were born here take it for granted that we’re going to be citizens. They are willing to stand and wait all night just for the chance,” said Durbin.
Workshops will be held each month through January, and because of the huge turnout, more workshops could be added.