Dateline Chicago, August 15, 2012, 7:30 a.m. Rounding the curve to park at Navy Pier, my jaw dropped at the sight of a thousand or more young adults gathered on the lawn and sidewalks in front of the Pier, waiting for the 8 a.m. check-in time for the deferred action mega-workshop sponsored by the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR). I had volunteered to be a legal screener so I hurried to arrive at my assigned post before 8:00.
Once inside the building, I headed to the grand ballroom – the primary site for application support services, including eligibility assessment and legal screening, application preparation and exit review. At that point, I realized that the crowd outside were the late arrivals – hundreds and hundreds of eager applicants had waited at Navy Pier overnight to apply as soon as the doors opened for business. They were joined by thousands more who arrived in the early morning hours. Although some people were still waking up from their overnight vigil when I arrived,
most of those who had been waiting since the night before were now up and eager to get started. Almost everyone I saw had a bag, folder or envelope of documents, and came to the event hopeful and ready to proceed with applying for this new benefit.
The application process began with self-screening in one of two ways: at a “laptop station”, using an online screening tool developed by the National Immigrant Justice Center, or by reviewing a handout checklist to indicate any issues that might impact on eligibility. For example, applicants who noted any arrest history, false claims to citizenship or absences since initial arrival, were referred to the legal screening area where volunteer lawyers, like me, and accredited representatives consulted with the applicant to determine if the noted issue affected eligibility. After the self-screening process was completed, including any consultation with a legal screener, the applicant proceeded to another area for assistance in completing the application forms. In the final stop – exit review – other volunteer legal screeners reviewed the entire application packet.
By 3:30 in the afternoon, I was speaking with “late arrivals” – those who didn’t get to Navy Pier until 4 or 4:30 in the morning. Despite the long day or, for some applicants, long day and night, everyone seemed to be in high spirits and patient with the inevitable lengthy waits between each step in the process. I think everyone participating in the event – applicants, family members, volunteers, organizers, politicians and other dignitaries – felt that they were part of an historic step in the journey to realize a DREAM Act.
As I left Navy Pier at the end of the day, my last stop was the “Wall of Dreams”, where gigantic blank sheets of paper had been posted for people to record their reflections. As I read “Finally, a chance to use the skills we studied for, a chance to do what we dreamed”; and “Waiting for my number to be called, I can’t hold the tears back…”; and “It is such a relief for all of us who have a dream and hopefully this will open our horizons to become someone and accomplish our dreams,” I felt inspired by the spirit of all the DREAMERS whose courage and dedication has led the way in the struggle to achieve justice for immigrants.
*Ms. Schreiber is the Managing Attorney for CLINIC's National Legal Center for Immigrants