They have been called "Dreamers," and Saturday, with their nerves on edge, they filled a conference room at Catholic Charities in Santa Rosa.
They all lack legal permission to be in the United States and, if discovered, face deportation to a country most have long forgotten or never really knew.
They were gathered to learn if they are covered by a new presidential order that would allow them to apply for a work permit and lift that threat.
"I'm very happy, excited, nervous — it's something I never expected to happen," said Loreli Colon, 26, of Sonoma. Her parents brought her to the United States from Mexico when she was 10, she said.
Nearby, Anna, of Santa Rosa, sat with Jorge, 20, a UCDavis student.
"His dreams can come true," she said of her son, whom she brought to Santa Rosa from Guadalajara when he was 2-years-old. She was one of many parents who accompanied their children Saturday and did not want her surname used.
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was established in June by President Barack Obama's executive order. An estimated <NO1><NO>one million people nationally fall into the eligible age bracket — <NO1><NO>from the ages of 15 to 31.
The application process starts Wednesday.
The program is aimed at people who entered the United States illegally before they were 16 and have lived here for five consecutive years, pass a criminal background check and are in high school, have graduated or have a GED.
In Sonoma County, about 700 people have attended workshops by Catholic Charities or other groups like the Committee for Immigrant Rights.
The roughly 40 people in the room <NO1><NO>on Saturday clutched passports, high school diplomas, certificates of achievement from middle school, utility bills, anything that could help to prove their eligibility.
If they meet the requirements they will be allowed to apply, along with a $465 fee, for a two-year work permit that may be extended and a driver's license.
"He deserves it for all the hard work he's done," Marlen Cerda, 18, of Santa Rosa said of her brother, Alexander, 21, as she waited for him outside.
Alexander is a Santa Rosa Junior College student who graduated from Elsie Allen with college scholarships he couldn't use because of his immigration status, Cerda said.
Marlen, born in Sonoma County, has just graduated from Elsie Allen High School. Alexander was born in Guanajuato, and came to Santa Rosa when he was 3, she said.
"All he needs is a chance," she said.
Obama's action delighted advocates who have pushed for passage of the Dream Act, legislation that would create a passage to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants who are students or have served in the military. But it infuriated others who said he had illegally sidestepped Congress.
Forms are still being developed for the program, and some rules are still being clarified, including for some offenses that won't count against applicants.
Motorist violations such as driving without a license will not disqualify applicants, said Manuel Rivera, a Catholic Charities immigration representative.
"Gracias a Dios," he told the group. "Thank God."
For those entering the process, the stakes for getting it right are high.
"If they do it wrong, they'll be placed in removal proceedings potentially," Maureen McSorley, a Healdsburg immigration attorney who has been leading workshops on the DECA program, said in an interview last week.