By Pat Loeb

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Two years after it was created, the US policy that has given relief to more than a half-million illegal immigrants who arrived in the United States as children is still not being used by thousands more who are eligible for it.

READ MORE: Temple University Student Samuel Sean Collington Killed In Off-Campus Shooting In North Philadelphia

Maria Sotomayor says she came to Pennsylvania from Ecuador, with her parents, when she was nine.  As she grew older, she came to understand her status was illegal and what that meant:  “Things like not getting a driver’s license, having to lie to my friends.”

So, Sotomayor applied for “DACA” — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — very soon after it took effect, in 2012.  She got a driver’s license and was able to visit Ecuador for the first time in more than a decade.

“And my family and friends came to see me while I was there, and it was the first time I was able to see my grandmom,” she notes.

(Maria Sotomayor with her family in Ecuador.  Photo provided)

(Maria Sotomayor, visiting her family in Ecuador. Photo provided)

—-

READ MORE: Officials Introduce People Over Politics Petition Calling For Change In Rules For Pennsylvania Politicians

Now, Sotomayor works legally for the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition, helping others apply for DACA.  She says the application fee, lack of awareness, and simple fear keep some people from applying.  But she hopes more will take the step.

“It’s amazing how a plastic card can really change a lot,” she says, recalling her own victory in obtaining a driver’s license.

A study by the Migration Policy Institute found that nearly 700,000 of the 1.2 million people eligible for DACA  have applied for it.  In Pennsylvania, just 4,500 of an estimated 16,000 have applied.

And New Jersey has one of the lowest rates: just 18,000 applicants from an estimated 86,000 eligible (about 21 percent).

“The more eligible youth apply for this program, the more this program is likely to be renewed,” Sotomayor tells KYW Newsradio.

 

MORE NEWS: WATCH LIVE: Philadelphia Eagles Head Coach Nick Sirianni To Speak With Media Following Loss To New York Giants