Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals benefits illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.
A new immigration program effective Wednesday will help many young people living in the U.S. illegally avoid deportation, temporarily.
The "Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals" program benefits illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. President Obama announced the new initiative in June, after Congress failed to pass the Dream Act.
Those who qualify and pay a fee can obtain a work permit and avoid deportation for at least two years, with an option to reapply later.
Nathaly Perez, who serves as a Program Manager for Catholic Charities of East Tennessee's Office of Immigration Services, said her office was flooded with phone calls Wednesday.
"They've grown up here in the United States. They speak English. Their friends are English-speaking, and they go to English schools," she said.
However, after high school many illegal immigrants find themselves stuck:
"Suddenly they're faced with, 'I can't get a drivers license, I can't get a job like everybody else, I can't even go to school because, it turns out, I'm undocumented.'"
Federico Salas came to the U.S. when he was just eight years old. Now at 20, he hopes to stay here and attend college and begin his career.
"You're going to eventually hope everything goes well, and just hope for the best, and be able to stay a little bit longer," he said.
Navigating the extensive paperwork and requirements can be difficult for anyone, and Salas plans to enlist the help of Catholic Charities for his own application.
"We're sitting there just waiting for it to open up, and be able to apply," he said. "And once you apply, you find out that you need more information, but its all worth it."
Within the 36 counties where Catholic Charities serves, the agency says more than 2390 immigrants are eligible for the program. Of those, about 1300 are immediately eligible, and the rest will have to wait until they reach the appropriate age.
According to U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services, an applicant must pay a $465 government fee, be 30 years old or younger, and have arrived in the U.S. before the age of 16.
Applications must also prove a relatively clean record, meet a certain level of education or honorable discharged from the military.