Elmont resident Wendolyne Sabrozo spent the past few weeks going over old travel documents, school records, even bank deposits from baby-sitting jobs to prove what she already believes: She belongs in the United States.
Sabrozo was 5 when her parents brought her and a sister to the United States from Peru on tourist visas that expired long ago. Since then, Sabrozo, 19, said she's excelled at school, but was unable to pursue long-term goals as an undocumented immigrant.
Like many others who entered the country illegally as children, Sabrozo Wednesday gained a chance to seek a federal "discretionary determination" that would allow her to receive a Social Security number, legally hold a job and pay taxes under a policy mandated by President Barack Obama. It was the first day that young undocumented immigrants could apply for the "deferred action" program that would prevent their deportations.
"I still can't believe this is happening and that so many doors will be opening," said Sabrozo, who was recently accepted into Sarah Lawrence College. "I am very happy and very thankful to this country."
The program, which has no current end date, is designed to help immigrants without serious criminal offenses who came to this country before they were 15, were younger than 31 as of June 15, and are students or have at least a high-school equivalency diploma.While it is not a path to permanent status, participating immigrants will be able to renew the status every two years.
Estimates of eligible immigrants range from 1.4 million to 1.7 million nationwide. The Immigration Policy Center, an advocacy research center in Washington, D.C., reported that 70,000 could qualify in New York.
Long Island advocacy groups haven't seen a rush for applications, said Patrick Young, program director of the Central American Refugee Center in Hempstead and Brentwood. "A lot of potential applicants are being very cautious about it," he said, "because it's the first time this kind of thing happens."
A 20-year-old Wantagh resident from Turkey, who asked that her name be withheld because of her immigration status, said applicants like her were taking their time to gather documents and file the paperwork correctly. She didn't want to miss her one shot at a life out of the shadows, she said.
"I'm ecstatic," she said. "The way I saw it, without papers you were like in an open prison in a free nation."
Immigrant advocates on Long Island celebrated the program's start as a baby step toward deeper reforms.
"As limited as this deferred action is, it still gives these young immigrants the opportunity to give back to their communities."
Those who favor immigration restrictions accused Obama of imposing amnesty.
"It's the president violating the will of Congress," said Roy Beck, of Numbers USA in Washington. "The only reason these childhood arrivals are in this situation is because their parents were allowed to hold jobs illegally."