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Clinic guides immigrants hoping for reprieves

Winda Moscat, 18, went through application papers. She wants to attend college and pursue a career.

Jonathan Wiggs/Globe staff

Winda Moscat, 18, went through application papers. She wants to attend college and pursue a career.

They came bearing documents. Passports, school transcripts, medical records, rent receipts, cellphone bills, bank statements, middle school diplomas — anything to prove they had lived in the United States since 2007.

Some even brought glowing recommendations from high school teachers.

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“We haven’t been including those,” said a smiling Paige Gunning, a volunteer with Greater Boston Legal Services. “But it shows how enthusiastic these people are.”

The El Salvador consulate in East Boston played host Saturday to a clinic aimed at providing guidance for young people living in the United States illegally as they apply for work permits and a temporary deportation reprieve under a new policy initiated by President Obama called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

The program is for people who were brought to the United States as children before June 15, 2007, have attended school in the United States, and do not have a criminal record.

The free clinic, sponsored by the Student Immigrant Movement, was all about minutiae. About 100 young people consulted with lawyers from Greater Boston Legal Services to double- and triple-check every line in their application forms, released by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services two weeks ago .

The clinic was one of many scheduled around the state by organizations such as the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition and the Brazilian Women’s Group.

As they waited to speak with lawyers and photocopy piles of forms, applicants said their excitement about the program was tempered by nervousness about the possibility of being denied. There is virtually no appeals process, lawyers told them, and they worried that a careless error could ruin their opportunity. They wanted a lawyer’s close look. “People who are applying are dedicated to doing this right,” said Gunning. “It’s one shot.”

Applicants arrived throughout the morning, some accompanied by parents or children of their own. Those who had preregistered for the clinic headed upstairs for a group session on filling out the forms, then a session with a lawyer. Walk-ins first went through a preliminary screening interview to determine whether they were eligible for deferred action or assess how far they had gotten filling out the application.

“I was shocked this was a free thing,” said Estefania Osorio, 21, who was born in Colombia and now lives in East Boston. Though the advice was free, the application fees amount to $465.

As Gunning conducted a line-by-line review of the application form on a projector, applicants squinted at their own forms, following along. Most of the questions were straightforward. Had the applicant ever engaged in terrorist activities, or had plans to engage in terrorist activities?

“The answer is no,” Gunning said, prompting giggles from the class. “If the answer is yes, that’s a problem.”

But the presentation was also laden with obscure nuggets of advice. Sign the form in blue, Gunning advised, so immigration officials know for certain it is not a photocopy. Include a mobile phone number to receive text message alerts on the status of an application.

For Eric Santana, 21, of Brighton, one of the most challenging elements of the form was a question calling for all his previous addresses. He moved around a lot when he first came to Boston from the Dominican Republic, he said — how could he be expected to remember the addresses of places he lived for a few months when he was 10 or 11 years old?

For some, the most fraught question on the application asked for an explanation of why the applicant would benefit from a work permit. Some wrote a single sentence, stating simply that they need a job to pay bills or save up for college.

For Winda Moscat, 18, the question was an opportunity for some self-expression.

She had graduated from high school, she explained, and wanted to go to college, be independent, pursue a career. But more than anything, she said, she wanted to support her family: Her father died three years ago, and single-parenting had been tough on her mother.

“I also want to help my mom out with the expenses because she’s been helping me all my life,” Moscat wrote. “She really needs the help.”

Martine Powers can be reached at mpowers@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @martinepowers.
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