It wasn’t the Dream Act, but it was still a dream come true.
Young illegal-immigrant New Yorkers lined up by the thousands yesterday to learn about the new federal program that could let them live and work in the United States legally without fear of deportation.
“It’s a great opportunity for lots of kids,” jubilant, Colombia-born Matthew Brown, 16, gushed about the so-called “deferred-action” policy, which went into effect yesterday.
“If I need help with financial aid, I can get it. I can get a driver’s license. I can travel outside of the country!” he said.
Brown was among more than 1,000 young people who waited hours on line to attend a workshop on the policy sponsored by immigration-reform groups at St. Mary’s Church on the Lower East Side.
“It’s worth it,” said Brown, who came to New York as a toddler and is a student at the High School for Mathematics, Science and Engineering in Hamilton Heights, Manhattan.
The policy — unveiled by President Obama in June after the more comprehensive immigration reform Dream Act didn’t get through Congress — can delay deportation and provide work permits under certain criteria.
To be eligible, immigrants have to have been under 31 as of June 15; have lived in the United States since June 15, 2007; have not been convicted of a felony or three or more misdemeanors; and not pose a threat to national security.
Like the others, Brown went through a screening process to make sure he was eligible, and was waiting to meet with a lawyer.
Cayetano Navarrete, 21, who emigrated from Mexico 12 years ago, also didn’t mind the wait.
“This is wonderful. Hopefully, I’m going to get the help I need here. I’ve been here for two hours in the rain. It means being treated as an equal, and no longer an outsider,” said Navarrete, a graphic-design student at Cooper Union who now hopes to apply for financial aid.
“This has been a long time coming!” said Chung-Wha Hong, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, which helped organize the workshop. “And what a joy it is to mobilize our resources and energy for something positive, after so many years of having to defend against one destructive policy after another.”
Earlier yesterday, young immigrants and advocates hailed deferred action at a rally at the US Citizenship and Immigration Services office in Long Island City.
Katherine Tabares [member of Make the Road New York], 17, a native of Cali, Colombia, sporting a gray shirt with the words “I Am (Un)documented,” called it a historic day for Latinos and other immigrants. Many undocumented students today are going to be able to apply and actually have the opportunity to succeed and have their dreams accomplished,” she said.
A jubilant Antonio Alarcon [member of Make the Road New York], 18, a native of Veracruz, Mexico, who immigrated to the United States seven years ago was also at the rally.
“It’s just amazing for me!” the Queens resident exclaimed.
Alarcon, 18, a summer intern at the Spanish-language TV network Univision, will enter La Guardia Community College this fall and now has hopes of eventually landing a job in the US as a journalist.
“I am Mexican-American, but I feel this country is my country. too. I feel more American,” he said, adding that it will be a relief to be able to live openly and legally in his adopted country.
“I came here for a better life with my mother and my brother so we’d feel safe,” said Yenny Yanaylle [member of Make the Road New York], 20, a CUNY student from Queens who emigrated from Peru a decade ago and also attended the forum, which was sponsored by a coalition of immigrant advocates and Queens churches.
“My brother, my mother and I think we deserve a chance. We want the American dream!” she said.
Juan Fernandios, 30, a native of Chile now living in Corona, wants to pursue his studies so he can become a nurse or an EMT — and said deferred action could be the key to his new career.
“It makes me feel like crying, but crying happy. Being able to do the things that I wasn’t able to do before, going back to school,” Fernandios said.
Politicians at the event were elated.
“I believe that this is the opportunity for them to really have the resources so that they can come out of the shadows,” said Assemblyman Francisco Moya.
And Council Speaker Christine Quinn announced that the City Council has set aside some $3 million to provide legal assistance to help those eligible.
But the program has its critics, particularly Republicans in Congress who charge that it usurped their power and was a ploy by the Obama administration to attract Latino votes in November.
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