RALEIGH, N.C. — Thousands of legal immigrants who want to stay in the U.S. permanently had their hopes renewed this week.
Late Tuesday, the U.S. Department of State announced that applications for permanent residency, which it had previously said would be rejected, will be accepted for the next month.
It was a major victory for immigrants who said earlier this month that the government had betrayed them and broken its own laws.
"We had this hope that truth and justice and good sense would prevail, and that's what we're seeing happen," said Rahul Deshpande, a Cary, N.C., computer programmer originally from India.
Deshpande is one of tens of thousands of foreign workers nationwide who has just survived a month of intense highs and lows.
In mid-June, the government surprised them with an announcement that virtually all those here on work visas, some of whom had been waiting years for the privilege of applying for permanent residency, were suddenly eligible.
A few weeks later, after immigrants spent thousands of dollars on legal fees, doctor approvals and other requirements, government officials reversed course and said none of the applications for permanent residency, also known as green cards, would be accepted. Immigration lawyers said the federal government's move, which came with no explanation, was unprecedented.
It was a crushing blow for many immigrants, who had canceled vacations, notified family and even planned celebratory events.
Though the wait for a green card can still be years after sending in an application, simply having an active application comes with a number of benefits. International travel is easier, and the worker's spouse and grown children also get work permits. In addition to allowing them to work, the permits make it easier to get driver's licenses and Social Security cards.
Deshpande, who has lived in the United States six years, abandoned plans to move to Canada when he first heard he would be able to apply for a green card. His wife canceled a flight to Canada just an hour before she was to take off, and they pulled their house off the market. When the government reversed the decision, he said his decision to move to Canada was final.
Now, he's re-evaluating.
"I'm still recovering from the roller coaster," Deshpande said Wednesday. "We're not 100 percent sure, but more than likely we'll stay."
Those affected by the government's about-face say a grass-roots uprising led to this week's good news. As a show of protest, thousands of immigrants nationwide overwhelmed the Washington, D.C., office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services with deliveries of flower arrangements earlier this month.
Immigration Voice, a nonprofit advocacy group run by volunteers around the country, began raising money online and pushing federal lawmakers to investigate the green card incident. Some of its leaders say their activism will continue.
Prashant Bhairgond, a Cary software developer originally from India, said he has recently donated nearly $1,000 to the group. After Tuesday's news, he began encouraging friends to contribute as well.
"Hopefully they'll see that we can accomplish something positive," Bhairgond said.
The American Immigration Lawyers Association in Washington had also begun preparing a class-action lawsuit demanding that the government accept those applications that had been prepared. Jack Pinnix, a Raleigh immigration lawyer and former head of the association, said he believed the lawsuit was a key consideration in the government's reversal.
Pinnix praised the government for its choice, but he said few people are ready to celebrate.
Some are rushing to finish applications they thought were useless, scrambling again for medical exams and long-lost birth certificates. Others are still too shocked or too wary to put faith in a government announcement.
One of Pinnix's clients, Peter Sun, an immigrant from Slovakia who works as a software engineer in Morrisville, N.C., said he won't relax until his application is accepted.
"Unless I have the paper in my hand, I just don't believe anything's going to happen," Sun said. "I don't trust the whole process anymore."
Deshpande agreed. Though Tuesday's announcement was an answer to prayer, he said, he couldn't summon the joy he felt the first time the government told him he was eligible to apply. Neither could his wife.
On Wednesday morning, just 12 hours after the government announced that it would accept applications after all, Deshpande came downstairs to find his wife checking for news that the government had once again changed the rules.
"She said, `They haven't reversed the reversal yet,' " Deshpande said.
He reassured her that there would be no more changes. But on his way to work, he dropped another load of household items at Goodwill, just in case they move.