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With High Hopes, Young Illegal Immigrants Seek Reprieve

Illegal immigrants from the Los Angeles area prepare to apply for a deferred action program.

When Thalia Gonzalez goes on job interviews, she's always asked the same question: Are you legally authorized to work in the United States? Her answer, she says, is often a deal breaker.

As an illegal immigrant, Gonzalez, 22, has had trouble finding a job since graduating from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

"There's always that one question I feel jeopardizes the whole interview," Gonzalez, who lives in Van Nuys, said. "It's usually really awkward. … They just don't want to take any risks."

But Gonzalez might soon find herself worrying more about her resume than a question concerning her legal status.

An immigration initiative announced by the Obama administration in June will allow eligible illegal immigrants to work legally in the country without fear of deportation.

Under the program, young illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children could receive work authorization and a two-year deferral from deportation. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) began accepting applications Wednesday.

To be eligible, illegal immigrants must have been under the age of 31 on June 15. They must have come to the country before they were 16 and have continuously lived here for at least five years. They also must be in school, have graduated or obtained a certificate of completion from high school, or honorably discharged from from the Coast Guard or Armed Forces, according to USCIS.

Tens of thousands of immigrants lined up across the country this week seeking help with applications, some hoping to finally get a driver's license or pursue a career.

Gonzalez was one of dozens of illegal immigrants who showed up Wednesday to a deferred action workshop organized by 's IDEAS (Improving Dreams, Equality, Access and Success) group. 

More than 100 people registered for the workshop, held at in Westwood, where questions were answered by attorneys, students and other community volunteers.

With no chance of appeal if his application—which comes with a hefty $465 fee—is denied, Sebastian Delatorre, 21, of Santa Clarita, said he wanted to make sure he understood how to apply.

"I plan to do it once and do it correctly," he said.

If his application is accepted, Delatorre will apply for jobs to help pay for graduate school at UCLA.

"I made it very far with very little and with the odds stacked against me," he said. "This is almost unreal, but it's here."

Zuleyma Barajas, 22, of Van Nuys, came to the workshop with her sister and mother.

"We were brought here by our parents for a better future and now we get to do what they brought us here for," said Barajas, who hopes to become a high school match teacher.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa expressed his support Wednesday for the deferred action program.

"Today I stand with all the students in Los Angeles who now have a chance to work toward their American Dream through this temporary reprieve," Villaraigosa said in a statement. "These are hard-working students who, through no fault of their own, were brought to this country and by any definition are now true Americans."

Delatorre, who came to the U.S. from Mexico with his mother when he was 10 years old, said the program will give immigrants like himself an opportunity to prove themselves.

"We can contribute and we can get degrees if we have a chance," he said. "Now we are going to have that chance."

What do you think of the deferral process? Tell us in the comments section below.

David Parker August 17, 2012 at 10:10 PM
I wlll not vote for Obama this go around because of this. He is bypassing our constitution. They are not legal. They are illegal.

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