For some, it has become one of those life-defining moments, the ones where you remember the exact time and date, where you were and what you were doing. For Jose Torres, 25, of Rohnert Park, it was 8:30 a.m. June 15.
Torres, a Sonoma State University student who has been living illegally in the United States for about a decade, was at work when his mother called him from Mexico. She said she saw a news report about a new program that offers undocumented students the chance to work legally in the United States.
After years of struggling to pay for college and helping his family in Mexico by working odd jobs and night shifts, Torres long had feared he was about to run into a dead-end. Even though he is set to receive a bachelor's degree in accounting next year, he had little hope of landing his dream job because he is an undocumented immigrant, without a Social Security number.
"I laughed. I said, 'Mom, don't joke with me,' " Torres recalled. "I told her, 'That's not going to happen. It won't happen.' She said, 'Well, you have a computer in front of you, why don't you look it up.' "
He looked it up and cried.
Three months later, Torres is one of almost 83,000 undocumented young people vying for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a new immigration initiative that will temporarily allow those who qualify to go to school and work without fear of being deported.
Since June when the program was announced by President Barack Obama, local immigration advocates and nonprofits that provide immigration assistance have been swamped with requests for help.
<b>'Ringing off the hook'</b>
At Catholic Charities in Santa Rosa, which operates an immigration services program, "the phone has been ringing off the hook," said Mary Lowe, the nonprofit's naturalization representative.
About 150 people are on a waiting list seeking assistance with the application process, although some have likely found help elsewhere, Lowe said. The entire staff of Catholic Charities' immigration services program has been working with clients, helping them through the procedure.
"Our whole staff is excited. We're obsessed with this process," Lowe said. "We're thrilled that we're able to help these folks that have waited so long."
But she said the process also involves a great deal of anxiety because there's no appeal process. After a case is adjudicated, the decision is final.
Under the initiative, illegal immigrants who were brought into the country as children and meet several key guidelines can request deferred action from deportation for two years. Those who receive it can apply for a work permit.
Applicants must prove they:
Were under age 31 as of last June 15 and have lived in the country continuously since June 15, 2007.
Came to the United States before they turned 16 and were present in the country on June 15 when Obama announced the initiative.
Entered illegally before June 15, or their lawful immigration status expired as of June 15.
The guidelines also require applicants be currently in school, have graduated or have earned a high school certificate of completion, or GED. Those who have been honorably discharged from U.S. military also can apply.
Applicants cannot have been convicted of a felony, a serious misdemeanor or three or more other misdemeanors.