Thousands of undocumented immigrants lined up at Navy Pier Wednesday, applying for temporary protection from deportation.
Launched by President Barack Obama through an executive order, the new and controversial "Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals" program gives eligible young people legal permission to work in this country without fear of deportation.
Nearly 10,000 people pre-registerd for Thursday's Dream Relief workshop at Navy Pier.
“I'm hopeful and thankful that I was able to apply," said Nayely Manzano, an undocumented high school student. "I'm able to not hide anymore."
“A lot of these kids want to attend college or use their degree for something good to help this country,” said Rafael Robles, an undocumented architecture student at University of Illinois at Chicago.
But even with an army of volunteers, only about 1,500 could fully complete the application process. Another 10,000 received information and guidance from counselors, according to chief organizer Lawrence Benito with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.
“Look to DreamRelief.org for the next workshop because we’re not going to get to everyone that’s here today," Benito said.
It's estimated 75,000 immigrants in Illinois could be eligible. The nationwide total is about 1.7 million.
“When history is written, they’re gonna talk about today at Navy Pier, and how this was the beginning of the end of our broken immigration system,” said Illinois Congressman Luis Gutierrez.
Republican lawmakers have accused the president of circumventing Congress with the executive order in an effort to boost his popularity in an election year.
Ed Gillespie, senior adviser to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, says it's a Band-Aid approach to a serious problem.
Gillespie also says the Obama plan hurts young immigrants who are here legally.
The Obama administration says the process now underway across the county will not lead to citizenship and remains a temporary solution.