Thousands of young illegal immigrants are preparing to apply for the right to work legally in America without being deported under a recently enacted federal program.
The program could help more than 1 million young illegal immigrants by giving them work permits, though they would not obtain green cards or a path to citizenship. To be eligible, immigrants must prove they arrived in the U.S. before they turned 16, are 30 or younger, have been living in the country at least five years and are in school or graduated or served in the military. They cannot have been convicted of certain crimes or otherwise pose a safety threat.
Immigrant advocates have embraced the program that began Wednesday as a long-awaited though temporary fix for young illegal immigrants, many who were brought here as children and grew up in America. But Republican critics accuse President Barack Obama of drafting the plan to boost his political standing with Latinos ahead of November's presidential election and say the program favors illegal immigrants over unemployed American citizens.
Here are the stories of some of the people eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program:
NAME: Itzel Guillen
BIRTHPLACE: Mexico City
CURRENT RESIDENCE: San Diego
BACKGROUND: Arrived in San Diego when she was 4 years old with an imposter identification card that was presented to a border inspector. Graduated from Patrick Henry High School in San Diego this year and plans to study psychology at San Diego State University this fall. Plans to apply for temporary status as early as this week.
QUOTE: "Even though it's temporary and there might be risks, I'm willing to try. I would like to encourage people take a risk as well. If we didn't take risks, we would all regret it."
NAME: Carolina Valdivia
BIRTHPLACE: Mexicali, Mexico.
CURRENT RESIDENCE: Escondido, Calif.
BACKGROUND: Arrived in the San Diego when she was 12 years old and overstayed a tourist visa. Graduated from Orange Glen High School in Escondido, Calif., and California State University, San Marcos with degrees in sociology and criminal justice and will pursue a doctoral degree in sociology with eyes toward a teaching career. Lives in Escondido with her parents, who are in the United States illegally. Plans to apply for temporary status in a month, when transcripts and other documents are in hand.
QUOTE: "(A work permit) would give me an opportunity to really show my potential. At least it would bring a sense of security. At least I would be able to drive and work. I would be able to contribute to the United States."
NAME: Irving Zambrano
BIRTHPLACE: Mexico City
CURRENT RESIDENCE: San Diego
BACKGROUND: Arrived in San Diego in the back seat of a car when he was 3 years old. Graduated from Patrick Henry High School in San Diego this year and plans to attend San Diego City College this fall. Hopes to transfer to a University of California school, study mechanical engineering and pursue a career in automotive design. Plans to apply for temporary status within a month.
QUOTE: "There are definitely some risks, but I think should be OK with it. I personally don't think I have a lot to worry about. It would have a pretty big impact on my life, being able to work and to help pay for school."
NAME: Juan Santiago
BIRTHPLACE: Coatecas Altas, Oaxaca, Mexico
CURRENT RESIDENCE: Madera, Calif.
BACKGROUND: An indigenous Zapotec Indian from Oaxaca, Mexico, Santiago crossed the Arizona desert into the U.S. with his mother when he was 11, joining his farmworker father and four older brothers in Madera. He is the first member of his family to graduate from high school and go to college. A political science student, he plans to apply for deferred action later this week.
QUOTE: "It's a great relief for us ... Instead of worrying about deportation, we can now focus on our education, for our own benefit and that of this nation. Because we're not leaving the U.S., this is our country."
NAME: Jaime Guzman
BIRTHPLACE: Mexico City, Mexico
CURRENT RESIDENCE: Portland, Ore.
BACKGROUND: Smuggled through a U.S. border checkpoint in a car at age 12. Said he is not planning to apply for deferred action out of a sense of solidarity with young people and family who don't qualify for the program. Currently runs a youth coaching and consulting business.
QUOTE: "I'm at a point in my life where I can accomplish my dreams, and I don't need a piece of paper that says, 'you belong here' or 'you're part of this society and contributing to this society.'"
NAME: Jaqueline Cinto
CURRENT RESIDENCE: New York
BACKGROUND: Came here more than a decade ago as a teenager. Recently obtained master's degree in education. Will apply for deferred action to be able to use her degree as soon as she has all her transcripts and other documents in order.
QUOTE: "Deferred action is my only chance so far to be able to practice for what I have worked so hard for... I am still a bit hesitant to apply not knowing if I am putting my family at risk of deportation. I am even more afraid that I might be denied deferred action for any reason."
NAME: Bupendra Ram
BIRTHPLACE: Ba, Fiji Islands
CURRENT RESIDENCE: Hawthorne, Calif.
BACKGROUND: Graduate student in communications at California State University, Fullerton. Brought to the U.S. by his parents as a toddler. Hopes to apply as soon as he receives papers from Fiji Islands documenting his departure as a child. Has a job but a work permit would open more opportunities to work at a large company or nonprofit helping other immigrants.
QUOTE: "It's something I have been waiting for since I was 2 years old because that's when I entered the United States.... This offers us an opportunity to fulfill the dreams I've had since I was a child."
NAME: Nathaly Uribe
BIRTHPLACE: Valparaiso, Chile
CURRENT RESIDENCE: Glen Burnie, Md.
BACKGROUND: High school student who hopes to study biochemistry and political science in college. Brought to the U.S. by her parents as a toddler. Wants to apply for deferred action to get a better job to help out her family and pay for college.
QUOTE: "This is my country. It's where my roots are. I have been here since I was 2, I don't remember anything from Chile. It feels great to know that the country that I call home is finally accepting me."
Associated Press writers Amy Taxin, Elliot Spagat, Gosia Wozniacka and Andres Gonzalez contributed to this report.