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Immigrant requests strain consulates and schools

By Elliot Spagat

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 25 2012 11:04 p.m. MDT

In this Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012 photo , Charlene Gomez leads an orientation seminar for illegal immigrants, to determine if they qualify for temporary work permits, at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), in Los Angeles. Schools and consulates have been flooded with requests for documents since President Barack Obama's administration said many young illegal immigrants may be eligible for two-year renewable work permits. The new policy has left schools and consulates scrambling for quick fixes ranging from new online forms, reassigned workers and extended hours. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

Associated Press

SAN DIEGO — Schools in Yakima, Wash., are taking nearly a month to deliver transcripts to former students. The Mexican consulate in Denver introduced Saturday hours last month after passport applications spiked by one-third. San Diego public schools added five employees in a new office to handle records requests.

Schools and consulates have been flooded with requests for documents after President Barack Obama announced a new program allowing young people living in the country illegally to apply for two-year renewable work permits. Up to 1.7 million people may qualify, which would be the broadest stroke to bring illegal immigrants out of the shadows in more than 25 years. Applicants — some eager to get in line before November's presidential elections — are finding they may have to wait a few weeks longer for a prize that has eluded them for years.

The clamor for documents is an early sign that the policy is highly popular. The Obama administration said this month that it approved the first 29 applications among more than 82,000 received since it began accepting requests Aug. 15.

The Mexican consulate in Los Angeles issued 17,444 passports and consular identification cards in August, up 63 percent from the same period last year, said Consul General David Figueroa, who attributes the entire increase to the new policy. The wait for a passport appointment at the largest Mexican consulate grew from one or two days to 40 days last month, then fell to 30 days after the consulate hired five employees to handle the increased workload, opened its main office on Saturdays and extended hours at satellite offices to seven days a week from five.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services recently clarified expectations, relieving applicants who worried they would need exhaustive proof of their whereabouts. Eligible applicants must have come to the U.S. before they turned 16, be 30 or younger, be high school graduates or in college, or have served in the military, and they cannot have serious criminal records. They also must have lived in the country since June 2007.

The new guidelines, issued Sept. 14, say applicants should provide as much evidence "as reasonably possible" that they stayed in the U.S. — ideally for every year — but that they don't have to account for every day of the last five years.

The government also reassured employers who were nervous about providing evidence that they hired an illegal immigrant. Documents will not be used against employers unless they committed "egregious violations of criminal statues or widespread abuses."

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