It's been a week since sweeping changes in the nation's immigration law took effect. The Obama administration is now allowing young immigrants brought here illegally as children to apply for temporary legal status — known as "deferred action."
On Day One of the program, tens of thousands of immigrants across the country stood in line to fill out their paperwork
Now one week in, demand for the program shows no sign of letting up. KPCC's Josie Huang has more:
It's just after 6 a.m. in Downtown L.A. The sun has just come up, but already 150 people are lined up outside a tan building to get help from the non-profit Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, or CHIRLA, even though the doors don't open until 9 a.m.
Near the very front of the line is 16-year-old wearing a white crocheted beret. Evelin Nunez drove here with her brother from their home in Downey and met up with their cousin from Pico Rivera. Luckily, they brought blankets.
"We had to come here at 11:30 at night and sleep here," Nunez said. "It's kinda cold and you're sleeping on the street which we're obviously not used to. Yeah, it's been a hard night."
Not to mention Nunez is missing registration day at her high school to be here, but she knows the non-profit can only take 250 people a day for its informational workshops.
"Yesterday we came, and we couldn't get a spot," Nunez said.
Nunez was brought illegally to California from Mexico City by her father when she was four years old. Getting deferred action means two years of legal status — immigrants can renew after that — and that means a social security card and the ability to get work permits and a driver's license.
Nunez would have started the application process when it opened last week. But her mother, a vegetable packer, and her father, a forklift driver, needed time to scrounge together money for the application fees: $465 per child, and another $65 each to get CHIRLA's help.
"My dad and my mom have always told this: I don't want to see you in the factories with me. I want to see you behind a desk and a computer if that's possible," Nunez said. "I don't want you to be having hernias, having ligaments torn or something like which they have gone through."
Right before CHIRLA opened its doors, the crowd had swelled close to 300 people. Staffers passed out blue cards with numbers to people based on their order in line.
Twenty-four-year-old Marcelino Ramirez made it into the second orientation class around noon. He'd been waiting since 4 a.m., and sat cross-legged on the sidewalk, filling out the 7-page deferred action application.
Ramirez illegally crossed the border into the U.S. with his cousin when he was 14, leaving his parents behind in Puebla, Mexico.
"Actually, they wanted me to come here," Ramirez said. "I wasn't 100-percent sure that I wanted to get here, but my mom, she would always tell me that I would have a better future here than over there."
Ramirez hopes to get legal status so that he can finish college; he had to drop out because he couldn't afford the tuition. That was before passage of the California Dream Act, which lets undocumented students apply for financial aid. Now he hopes deferred action will let him take on something more ambitious than his current job as a baker.
"I want to join the Air Force," Ramirez said. "I'm still debating myself what I want to be. It's either a pilot or something smaller."
Around 10 a.m., CHIRLA staffers wave people into the building for the first of the workshops.
Staffer Miriam Mesa stands before a giant whiteboard covered in Spanish and English. Jumping between both languages, she explains to the group who qualifies. People under 31, who first came to the US before they were 16. She stresses how important it is to be thorough filling out the application.
Some of the people look dog tired after being up most of the night.
"You can see the fatigue but they have plenty of questions and that tells me they're actually listening to what I'm telling them," Mesa said. "It's their future."
After the session, high school student Evelin Nunez looked relieved. Legal status — even if temporary — seems that much more within reach. So does her dream of going to culinary school and opening an Italian restaurant.
"I want to have my own business not only to support my immediate family but I also want to take my parents out of working in the factories," Nunez said. "I just want them to be at home, just doing what they love, and if it's possible to have them travel if they want. That's what I want for them and I know that's the same thing they want for me."
Nunez and her brother and cousin will be back for a second appointment to make sure their applications are in order. CHIRLA staff say they will keep offering help to applicants until those lines, the ones that go around the block, disappear.