Starting Wednesday, young people who arrived to the U.S. illegally can apply for a new Department of Homeland Security program that would allow them to avoid deportation and receive work permits.
As many as 1.7 million undocumented immigrants who entered the country as children may be eligible for the Obama administration's Deferred Action program.
To be eligible, applicants must have been younger than 31 years old on June 15; arrived in the U.S. before they turned 16; have lived in the country at least five years; and need to be in school or have graduated or served in the military.
Applicants must also have a clean record.
Critics have called the policy "back door amnesty" but supporters disagree with that phrasing.
"This is not a permanent solution for the young people who are going to be able to get relief from deportation, but what this is is the result of years and years and years of struggle," said Ana Maria Archila, the co-executive director of Make the Road New York.
In Jackson Heights, immigrants spent hours in the rain and a hail storm to get an application and to attend a workshop sponsored by the group Make the Road New York.
"I was really nervous. I thought I may mess it up and would have to get another one but I think I did good," said one participant. "I'm so excited."
"I'm really happy, but at the same time I feel sad for some of my friends who don't qualify for this," said another.
Homeland Security officials say applications can be denied, but information will not be shared with enforcement agencies.
The application fee is $465. Some groups like Make the Road New York are also charging for legal services, which some immigrants have complained about.
"Some of the cases are going to be a little bit more complicated and we will be charging a nominal fee of $300," said Archila.
City Council members have set aside funds to provide free legal services to those looking to file the paperwork and a number of locations citywide. Interested applicants can call 311 for more information.
Both the form and a full list of requirements can be found at uscis.gov/childhoodarrivals.
Meanwhile, New York Secretary of State Cesar Perales is warning about some possible scams.
He said applicants should be wary of con artists who charge a lot of money for services that are never provided and could damage one's immigration opportunities.
He said it's important that anyone who thinks they might be a candidate for the government's Deferred Action Program should see a lawyer first. That's because you could face deportation if you're not eligible.
"There's no risk by seeking out help, the appropriate help because we might get more from that than not actually doing anything about it," said Melissa Garcia Velez of the New York State Leadership Council. "So while keeping in mind that there are certain dangers and risks about applying, it does not mean it should stop someone from seeking out the proper help and speaking to a lawyer who will be able to provide more help about that."
For more information on the application process, call the New Americans Hotline at 800-566-7636 or 212-419-3737.