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Obama laid out his plan. What do immigrants do next?

LOS ANGELES -- Immigrants who may qualify for protection from deportation under the president's executive orders should immediately begin gathering documents, from birth certificates to utility bills, that will help them prove eligibility, advocacy groups are advising.

"We do expect millions of people will benefit and millions of lives will change in a very profound and positive way,'' Arnulfo De La Cruz, director of Mi Familia Vota California, a non-profit advocacy group, says of President Obama's announcement Thursday.

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He and leaders of other groups focused on helping Latino immigrants say they have advised clients to expect a wait of perhaps several months before the U.S. government has its application process ready.

President Barack Obama announces executive actions on U.S. immigration policy during a nationally televised address from the White House, November 20, 2014 in Washington, DC. Obama outlined a plan on Thursday to ease the threat of deportation for about 4.7 million undocumented immigrants.
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President Barack Obama announces executive actions on U.S. immigration policy during a nationally televised address from the White House, November 20, 2014 in Washington, DC. Obama outlined a plan on Thursday to ease the threat of deportation for about 4.7 million undocumented immigrants.

That was the case in 2012, when the government instituted the deferred deportation program for young undocumented immigrants known as Deferred Action for Childhood.

They also are advising immigrants to be aware of the program's limitations -- that it is not a path to citizenship. And, they urge immigrants not to be fooled by profiteers who prey on vulnerable immigrants with false promises of citizenship or protection in exchange for cash.

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"The first thing that we are telling everybody is that only a subset of the undocumented qualify for what the president is announcing and really explain to them the temporary nature of the program,'' says Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, which calls itself CHIRLA.

The groups were awaiting final details of the president's plans before providing personalized advise to clients on eligibility.

For those immigrants who qualify, Salas said it will be important for them to begin securing original copies of documents that will prove how long they have been in this country as well as establish legal family ties that may be important to their case. They may need to go to the consulate of their country of origin, or to their school districts or places of former residence to obtain proof.

Supporting evidence that may be required include birth certificates, family and adoption records, legal guardianship records, school records, passports and other official documents, Salas says.

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They may need to prove continuous residency over a period of years, which can be established with pay stubs, utility bills, rental agreements or other ordinary records.

An additional requirement will be establishing evidence of good moral character, Salas said. In essence, she said, applicants need to do a background check on themselves to be sure there are no unresolved issues or minor legal violations in their past that could trip up their application.

"Finally, we will help them fill out their paperwork,'' Salas says. "We can help them prove their cases.''

Once they apply, they will need to pay $465 to the government, a not insignificant sum for some undocumented people working at unskilled labor jobs.

Immigration lawyers can help, particularly with complex cases, but in many cases applicants can do the work themselves or with assistance from immigrant support groups, they say.

"We think there will be several months from time of announcement to the time someone can actually apply,'' says De La Cruz. "What we're doing is preparing our community to be ready for this wonderful opportunity.''

Bulmaro Mazariegos, 23, an unauthorized Guatemalan immigrant in Louisville, said he hopes he qualifies and can establish a more stable life in the U.S., at least for the time being.

"I saw the news," he said. "It's a good thing, it would help a lot of people."

Contributing: Chris Kenning, Louisville Courier-Journal