CHICAGO — Tens of thousands of young illegal immigrants waited excitedly in lines as long as a mile and thronged to information sessions across the country on Wednesday, the first day that a federal immigration agency began accepting applications for deportation deferrals that include permits to work legally.
The public outpouring surprised both federal officials and immigrant advocates, who had expected an enthusiastic response to the Obama administration’s deferral program but were unprepared for the size and intensity of it. At Navy Pier here, young people began lining up on Tuesday evening for a counseling session about the program that was organized by an immigrants’ rights group….
Three prominent Illinois Democrats, all longtime supporters of the Dream Act, gathered at Navy Pier to mingle with the young immigrants and reap some of the political benefits from Mr. Obama’s initiative.
One of them, Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, wrote the original Dream Act bill 11 years ago. Mr. Durbin, the Senate’s second-ranking Democrat, said he was elated to see the huge crowd. “You can’t stop this force,” Mr. Durbin said to applause from the immigrants. “This is a force of people who have grown up in this country and want to be part of its future. They are creating a moral force beyond a legal force.”
Another of the Democrats, Representative Luis Gutierrez, compared the scene at Navy Pier to the immigrants arriving at Ellis Island a century ago. “While they saw New York City then, today they see Chicago,” he said.
The third Democrat, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who was Mr. Obama’s White House chief of staff, announced that the city had raised $275,000 in private donations for a college scholarship fund for immigrants who were granted deferrals. Mr. Emanuel pressed home his political point.
“Don’t let anybody tell you on a day like today that who sits in that Oval Office does not matter,” he said.