After a lifetime of fearing deportation, being banned from working legally and fighting to stay in the country they grew up in, thousands and thousands of young, undocumented immigrants could get a reprieve today as the federal government begins accepting applications for two-year work permits.
Immigrants who are younger than 31 and were brought to the U.S. before their 16th birthdays are eligible for the permits, which will allow them to stay and work here legally for two years. According to the Migration Policy Institute, up to 1.76 million people could be eligible.
"That document is going to change my life forever," said Ramiro Luna, 29, who immigrated to Texas from Monterrey, Mexico, when he was 7 years old. "Everything is going to be different. I now feel welcome."
Thousands of young immigrants stood in lines that wrapped around immigration offices from Houston to Chicago today to apply for legal status on Wednesday.
To receive the deferred action permit, immigrants have to either be currently enrolled in school or have a high school diploma or GED. Honorably discharged veterans are also eligible to apply. Felons and people with more than three misdemeanors will not be given permits, according to the policy.
Luna, who now lives in Dallas, said he has compiled 10 different types of documents, including old photographs and first communion records, to prove he came to the United States before the age of 16.
The price tag for a two-year exemption from deportation -- $465 per application -- is a hefty one for many. A nonprofit group in Houston, Protectors of the Dream, announced Tuesday it would be awarding 10 to 25 grants to cover the application fee for some Houston-area immigrants.
"This generation of young scholars and activists that has come to be known as the Dream Act generation is amazing," Jacob Monty, who's with the Monty & Ramirez law firm, one of the founders of the group, said in a statement.
"We are inspiring our business and professional community to lend the resources, skills, and vision to this cause to lobby for more profound immigration reform and to be witness to how this administration and future administrations treat our young as they step out of the shadows to attempt to take part in the American Dream. We want to start by alleviating the burden of filing fees for Dreamers."
"This is the first phase of our program," Monty added. "We want to do more, much more."
Under the new policy, so-called "dreamers" would be granted legal status and work permits but not a path to citizenship or the right to vote.
While the permits are only valid for two years, Luna, who dreams of running for the Dallas city council, said they are a step in the right direction.
"Even though it's just two years we will just make the best of these two years and just pray that we will have the opportunity returned the next time we reapply," he said.
It was two months ago that President Obama announced the measure, drawing cheers from Dream Act advocates and inviting a deluge of criticism from opponents.
"The president's is a two-year solution that expires after two years and does not really solve this in a lasting way," Florida Sen. Marco Rubio told ABC News in June. "It just gets him through the election."
But for Nicole, a 21-year-old undocumented college student who would not give her last name for fear of being fired, the politics or the president's timing do not matter nearly as much as the fact that she will gain legal status.