WASHINGTON (WUSA-AP) -Tens of thousands of young immigrants brought here illegally as children began applying today-- for the first time -- for the right to stay in the U-S openly and legally.
The Obama Administration is implementing one of the most sweeping changes in immigration law in decades.
At Casa de Maryland in Langley Park, nearly 1,000 people lined up to apply.
To qualify for temporary legal status, applicants have to have been brought here before age 16, to be in or have finished high school, trade school, or served in the military, and they have to be free of serious criminal convictions.
Critics call it back door amnesty. And a new President could reverse it.
But there were tears of joy at scores of offices across the country set up with volunteer lawyers to help immigrants apply.
At the National Immigration Forum in downtown DC, Nataly Montano, 17, was still trying to believe it as she hugged the immigration lawyer who was helping her. "Seeing everyone here, filling everything out, it's actually starting to hit me that it's real, that it actually happened."
Her parents brought her to the US at six. In constant fear of deportation, she dedicated herself to school. And graduated from Washington and Lee High School in Arlington in June as valedictorian with a 4.3 grade point average.
"My dream medical school is Harvard," she said. "So we'll see about that, but I want to be a heart surgeon."
It brings her to tears when her and her parents are accused of stealing American jobs. "Because honestly, my mom cleans toilets. Who would want to do that? And she was a nurse in Bolivia. And it breaks my heart because there she is for me. No one is going to give her back those years."
Critics see the Obama Administration's deferred immigration enforcement program very differently. "It's illegal," says Dan Stein of the Federation for American Immigration Reform. "It's unconstitutional. Congress gets to decide who gets to come and under what terms."
Stein says deferred action will only make US border problems worse. "This sends the incredible wrong message around the world that if you play by the rules, you're a big fat sucker."
Nataly says she's neither a sucker nor a rule-breaker... she says she's just an American dreamer. "I'm going to work really hard for my dreams," she says with tears in her eyes.
Casa De Maryland legal staffers plan to work every Wednesday and Saturday to help applicants, in hopes of registering 10-thousand young people.
Critics say they'll work just as hard to get either Congress -- or a President Romney -- to reverse it.
The Department of Homeland Security is releasing for the first time details on how illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children can apply to avoid deportation and receive a work permit.
Alejandro Mayorkas, director of U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services, said people who qualify for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program can download the application, including forms needed to get a work permit, from the agency's website, beginning Tuesday. They can start submitting applications on Wednesday.
Immigrants will have to pay a $465 fee and submit proof of their eligibility. Proof can include school transcripts, medical and financial records as well as military service records.
As many as 1.7 million illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children may be eligible for the new program.