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Dec 15, 3:52 PM EST

Immigrants urged not to fear applying for program


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LOS ANGELES (AP) -- A top federal immigration official on Monday urged qualified immigrants to apply for President Barack Obama's reprieve from deportation and sought to dispel fears that a future administration might unravel the program.

At a conference for immigrant advocates in Los Angeles, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services director Leon Rodriguez said that in the past presidents have respected the immigration measures taken by their predecessors.

"For all those people who are thinking about participating in a deferred action program: Stop worrying. Participate with confidence," Rodriguez said in Spanish. "Remember that in every moment that an American president has created a new immigration program, that program has been respected by other presidents."

The remarks come as Rodriguez's agency gears up to oversee Obama's initiative to spare from deportation nearly 5 million immigrants living in the country illegally. At least 20 states led by Texas have filed a lawsuit to try to block the measure.

Immigrants across the country are attending community forums and meeting with lawyers to see if they might qualify. The measure applies to those who have been in the country illegally for more than five years and have children who are American citizens or lawful permanent residents, and some immigrants who entered the country illegally as children and who were not previously covered by a 2012 reprieve.

In a brief interview with reporters, Rodriguez said immigration officers don't share applicants' information with enforcement authorities unless an applicant has a disqualifying criminal history or is a national security threat. He said the program will be fully funded by application fees.

The agency plans to hire as many as 1,000 immigration officers to process applications in office space leased in northern Virginia and has already received 5,000 applications for the government jobs, he said.

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