The program is President Obama's most ambitious immigration initiative by far, a sweeping exercise of executive authority after Congress failed to pass the Dream Act, legislation he supported that would have given legal status to the young immigrants. It is a major bid by Mr. Obama to win back Latino voters who were souring on him after his administration deported nearly 1.2 million immigrants, most of them Latinos, in the last three years.
The initiative to defer deportations, which Mr. Obama announced in June, officially starts on Wednesday, when a federal immigration agency will begin accepting requests.
This weekend, the small offices of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, a nonprofit group, were jammed with people seeking information about the program. Despite the baking heat, the lines stretched out the front door, to the end of a long city block. Similar crowds have flocked to immigrant and student organizations in other states for advice.
The program, which grants two-year deportation deferrals and work permits to illegal immigrants brought here as children, creates a herculean job for the federal agency in charge, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. Agency officials are expecting the biggest load of paperwork in the shortest amount of time for a new program since 1986, when more than three million immigrants who were here illegally became legal residents under an amnesty.
Because deferrals are temporary and must be renewed after two years -- when Mr. Obama may no longer occupy the White House -- administration officials have been uncertain how many illegal immigrants would come forward to apply.
The work permit young immigrants can receive with the deferral opens many doors that have been firmly shut. They can obtain valid Social Security numbers and apply for driver's licenses, professional certificates and