Long lines formed at help centers and lawyers' office across America Wednesday as thousands of young, undocumented immigrants began applying for relief from deportation.
They took advantage of one of the biggest immigration policy changes in years. An executive order by President Barack Obama allows those who entered the country illegally as children to remain and work without fear of deportation for at least two years.
A crowd formed at Chicago's Navy Pier Wednesday to get help from immigration lawyers and fill out forms.
"I was able to learn the customs and traditions, and I am used to living the life here," Nayeli Manzano, 16, told CNN affiliate WLS-TV.
She arrived in the United States as a child from Mexico and said she is very much American.
"I feel I am a citizen," she said. "The only thing that is stopping me is a little piece of paper."
Tuesday, at a Latino community center in New York, Maria, a young Chilean, leaped from her seat.
"I've found the form!" she screamed.
She was with a number of other undocumented immigrants meeting there to get legal advice in anticipation of the release of the form, which authorities surprisingly posted a day before they had said they would.
The form, titled "Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals," was dated August 15, 2012, and bore the expiration date of February 28, 2013.
Maria started filling it out immediately, telling a reporter she was too afraid to divulge her last name or details of her childhood trek to the United States, but would feel differently once the form had been processed and her status ensured.
Alejandro Mayorkas, the director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said applicants who have not committed major crimes can apply without fear of deportation.
The forms were made available two months after Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said that people who arrived in the United States as children may request consideration of deferred action for a period of two years subject to renewal, and upon approval would be eligible for work authorization.
As many as 1.7 million youths may qualify for the program, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, a project of the Pew Research Center.
Dubbed Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the deferral program was created in June under an executive order signed by President Barack Obama.
However, there is no guarantee of its future if Obama is not re-elected. Republican Mitt Romney would then have the power to revoke the order.
The program also does not guarantee public benefits to successful applicants. That allowed Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer to issue an executive order Wednesday directing state agencies to deny benefits -- including driver's licenses -- to deferred action recipients.
"The program does not provide for any additional public benefit to unlawfully present aliens beyond the delayed enforcement of United States immigration laws and the possible provision of employment authorization," the executive order states.
It says granting public benefits to deferred action recipients would have "significant and lasting impacts" on Arizona's budget, health care system and other taxpayer-funded benefits.
Brewer's order drew immediate criticism from supporters of immigration reform and the DREAM Act, which would offer temporary legal status to young illegal immigrants who have graduated high school and want to attend college or join the military. Eventually, they could obtain permanent residency or citizenship.
"Gov. Brewer is directly attacking children and immigrant youth, who with no fault of their own, were brought to the United States," said the Arizona DREAM Act Coalition.
The group organized a march to the State Capitol on Wednesday, carrying a large banner reading "DREAM Act Now."
When he signed the deferred action order, Obama said the changes would make immigration policy "more fair, more efficient and more just."
The shift on the politically volatile issue of immigration policy elicited praise from Latino leaders, while Republicans reacted with outrage, saying the move amounts to amnesty -- a negative buzzword among conservatives -- and usurps congressional authority.
"This is not amnesty," Obama said. "This is not immunity. This is not a path to citizenship. It's not a permanent fix. This is a temporary stopgap measure."