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U.S. begins relief program for illegal childhood arrivals

(Xinhua)

13:37, August 16, 2012

WASHINGTON, Aug. 15 (Xinhua) -- U.S. authorities on Wednesday began accepting applications for people who entered the United States as children illegally, embarking on one of the most sweeping changes in immigration policy in decades that would allow those qualified to remain in and work in the country without fear of deportation for at least two years.

The applications for deferred action for childhood arrivals were to be handled by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services ( USCIS). It was in line with a June 15 announcement by Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano. At the time, it was estimated the measure would affect as many as 800,000 people, but a new estimate by Pew Hispanic Center on Tuesday said the policy would have impact on up to 1.7 million youths.

"USCIS has developed a rigorous review process for deferred action requests under guidelines issued by Secretary Napolitano," said USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas. "Childhood arrivals who meet the guidelines and whose cases are deferred will now be able to live without fear of removal."

The program is open to immigrants aged 15 to 31 who came to the country before they were 16 and have lived in the country continuously for at least the past five years. Among other restrictions, they must not have been convicted of serious crimes, be enrolled in or have completed high school, or have served in the U.S. military.

On Tuesday, officials confirmed that those enrolled in General Educational Development (GED) programs and certain training programs will also qualify.

The policy shift breaks years of Congressional stalemate on immigration reform, and commentators have said it could significantly boost Hispanic support for President Barack Obama in a tight election campaign. Hispanics make up the vast majority of the undocumented population in the United States.

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