The program allows illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children to submit applications to avoid deportation for two years and get work permits. The application fee costs $465.
Homeland Security announced the details Tuesday of what documents illegal immigrants would need to prove that they are eligible for the Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. The announcement came a day before U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services was set to begin letting people apply for the program.
The administration said illegal immigrants will not be deported and can qualify for work permits only if they meet these criteria:
- They must provide proof of identity
- They arrived in the U.S. before the age of 16
- They are younger than 31
- They have been in the country for at least five continuous years
- They also cannot have been convicted of certain crimes or otherwise pose a safety threat
- They graduated from a U.S. high school, or earned a GED, or served in the military
Guidelines state that proof of identity and eligibility could include a passport or birth certificate, school transcripts, medical and financial records and military service records. Homeland Security says that in some instances, multiple sworn affidavits, signed by a third party under penalty of perjury, also could be used. Anyone found to have committed fraud will be referred to federal immigration agents.
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, a request that would cost $360 more.
Opponents have much to criticize over this program, which was issued as an executive order signed by President Barack Obama in June. Republican lawmakers have accused Mr. Obama of circumventing Congress with the new program in an effort to boost his political standing and of favoring illegal immigrants over unemployed U.S. citizens. Some have called the policy a backdoor amnesty plan, expressing concern about fraud.
Meanwhile, supporters say those who are applying for the program were brought into the country without any fault of their own and are not responsible for being here, and therefore should not be punished.
"They're separating the family. That's the problem in this country right now," said Los Angeles resident Pedro Pisce. "This is the best thing Obama did."
But the young people who lined up Wednesday say the U.S. is their home now.
"I say I'm American no matter what," said Jesus Ayala of Los Angeles. "I would fight for this country. This is my country. That's all."
The Obama administration is estimating that just this year alone, close to 1 million people will apply.
Meanwhile in Arizona, Gov. Jan Brewer signed an executive order Wednesday directing state agencies to deny driver's licenses and other public benefits to illegal immigrants who obtain work authorizations under the new program, setting up a potential clash between states rights and federal rights.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.