Just three weeks after young illegal immigrants could start applying for two-year work permits, the Obama administration is already approving the first wave of applications.
It's part of the President's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, a policy affecting many people in Alabama avoiding deportation.
So far, about 72,000 people have applied for work permits to stay in America, but Homeland Security estimates as many as 1.04 million immigrants could apply, with about 890,000 being immediately eligible.
CBS-8 News spoke with a young illegal immigrant who grew up in Clanton, graduated top five in his class at Chilton County high school and is applying for a work permit.
“At first I couldn't believe my luck,” Jose Gonzalez said about the work permits. “This is what I was waiting for.”
The 19-year old says the Deferred Action Policy could save his and his family's lives.
“This is the chance that I have to get a decent job,” Gonzalez said. “Right now I mostly need the money, because my father is very sick, kidney failure and since my junior year I've had to support the family.”
Gonzalez says he lives with his father, mother and two younger brothers, ages 17 and 12, the youngest the only member of his family born in America.
“It’s pretty hard because I don’t get paid that much at my job,” Gonzalez said, explaining he works as a freelance home remodeler to pay the bills.
Like so many other young immigrants in Alabama, Gonzalez was born in Mexico, but brought to the U.S. when he was 5-years old.
"When I graduated I got a full scholarship to a private college in Birmingham. But since I didn't have any papers or anything, I was undocumented, I couldn't get the full scholarship,” he said.
Gonzalez says the new worker’s permits give other young immigrants in his situation to have a decent job and go to college.
To be eligible for the deferred deportation, 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. The immigrants could not have a serious criminal record. Successful applicants can avoid deportation for up to two years and get a work permit with options for unlimited renewals.
Gonzalez says he understands why many Americans are prejudiced to immigrants, but says not all immigrants follow the stereotype.
“He doesn't pay taxes, he lives off the government, he's a criminal and I mean, I believe people like that, they shouldn’t have a chance to get their papers or anything like that,” he said.
Applicants must also pay a $465 paperwork fee to cover the cost of processing the work permit and fingerprint collection.
When asked what’s holding him back, Gonzalez sighed, “Mostly it’s money that I don’t have right now, you know, I've been trying to save as much as I can.”
Gonzalez says thousands of other young immigrants are in the same situation, unable to get good-paying work, and unable to pay for the application and extra money needed for a lawyer.
“It's recommended you use a lawyer, because it's like a one-shot deal, the lawyer's job is to push your papers on in, so you can get accepted,” Gonzalez said.
Next week, Gonzalez will be meeting with a lawyer in Bessemer next week to start his own application process.
“It’s worth it to not be deported and given a chance to make something of yourself, at least for two years,” he said.
Gonzalez is hopeful he will get his worker’s permit, and hopes soon there after to apply for American citizenship then enroll in college.
CBS-8 News also contacted Attorney General Luther Strange's office, but his press secretary said he was not available for comment.