The nation's 107 immigration offices closed their doors Thursday to a once-in-a-lifetime offer of amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants after processing tens of thousands on the final day of the yearlong program.
Aliens who beat the deadline Thursday exchanged hugs and kisses and waved American flags in Los Angeles. Immigration and Naturalization Service employees in Houston popped open champagne bottles as the final applicants walked out the door. In Chicago, workers waved a flag and burst a balloon at midnight."Thank God, this is a blessing. We have come so far and from so much suffering," said Rosa Pineda, a Guatemalan who applied in Albuquerque, N.M.
In Honolulu, commercial fisherman Sione Feiloakitau partied with native dancers and immigration officials Thursday after becoming the last person in the United States to apply before the deadline.
"No words can express my appreciation and my happiness at this time," said Feiloakitau, 42, who moved to Hawaii in 1979 from the South Pacific nation of Tonga. "This is something I have hoped for for a long time."
"As they say, better late than never," said Mark Everson, an INS deputy commissioner from Washington who presented Feiloakitau with a tiny Statue of Liberty replica.