Caribbean American congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke has begun hosting legal clinics geared towards assisting eligible young people ready to apply for benefits for temporary reprieve from deportation.
The clinics, which are held in conjunction with the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC), include employment authorization and relief from removal or removal proceedings.
"Deferred Action represents the start of a process. We have a lot of work ahead of us if we're going to offer these young scholars equal access to the American Dream," Clarke, the daughter of Caribbean immigrants, told the Caribbean Media Corporation.
"Congress must enact comprehensive immigration reform, because every community depends upon it," added the representative for the 11th Congressional District in Brooklyn, considered the largest district of Caribbean immigrants in the United States.
Clarke said Caribbean immigrant women and men are being screened on-site by attorneys from NYIC and the Brooklyn Defender Services, the Caribbean Women's Health Association, and the New York Legal Assistance Group, among others.
"We are happy to work with Congresswoman Clarke to help as many DREAMers as possible take advantage of this opportunity," said Chung-Wha Hong, NYIC's executive director.
"We look forward to working with Congress to pass legislation that provides a path to citizenship for DREAMers and their families," she added.
An estimated 1.7 million young, undocumented immigrants could apply for deferred action and employment authorization under the new policy, announced on June 15 by US President Barack Obama.
The initiative grants two-year deportation deferrals and work permits to illegal Caribbean and other immigrants brought to the US as children.
Last month, New York State officials said they were providing US$450,000 in grants to groups that can help assist Caribbean and other immigrants for deferred deportation.
"It is critical that we get information out to our immigrant communities so that people will know who is eligible for deferred action and so that they can avoid being scammed," said New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
Silver said State grants will support clinics, workshops and legal services across the state, where an estimated 80,000 immigrants between the ages of 15 and 30 could currently benefit.
The Washington-based Migration Institute, a nonpartisan research group, said about 1.2 million immigrants are eligible to apply now for the programme.
It said another 500,000 children will be able to apply when they reach the minimum eligibility age of 15 in coming years.
US officials said to be eligible for the reprieve, illegal immigrants must have been in the country and under age 31 on June 15.
They must also have come to the US before they were 16 years of age and have resided in the country continuously for at least five years.
In addition, officials said the illegal immigrants must be in school, or have graduated from high school or honorably discharged from the US Armed Forces.
Officials said immigrants convicted of a felony, a serious misdemeanor (including a sexual abuse or drug violation), or three less serious misdemeanors will be rejected.
"I encourage anyone who is DREAM Act eligible to apply for this program that will give so many young people an opportunity to participate in our civil society," Clarke said.
"I hope employment authorization will be one of the many other benefits that will be granted across the nation" she added.
Clarke warned individuals who intend to apply for deferred action to be "wary of scams and lawyers who may charge exorbitant fees to provide legal assistance."