This week, newspapers and broadcasters across the country reported on a coordinated, nationwide rally of tens of thousands of immigrants and activists who demonstrated in favor of a pathway to citizenship for some 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. The Associated Press reported that the rallies spanned 18 states and Washington, D.C., where participants gathered on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday afternoon.
A poll released last week, commissioned by the American Sustainable Business Council and the Main Street Alliance and conducted by Lake Research Partners, indicates that 67 percent of small-business owners in the U.S. “support a roadmap to citizenship for current immigrants.” The support is overwhelming, even across party lines, as 62 percent of Republican small-business owners support such a pathway and 82 percent of Democratic business owners do. Sixty-one percent overall support such a pathway over a temporary worker program with no roadmap to citizenship.
Among small-business owners in the Western states, support is even stronger, with 78 percent in favor of a pathway.
“Small businesses across the Western states need immigration reform that creates economy-boosting jobs, strengthens consumer demand on Main Street and meets the needs of a modern economy,” stated Cristina McNeil, owner of Office Web International in Boise and a leader in the Idaho Main Street Alliance, in a recent news release from the Business Council and Main Street Alliance. “A roadmap to citizenship for immigrants who aspire to be American citizens is the way to achieve that.”
Doug Brown, owner of Doug Brown Consulting in Sun Valley and also director of the Wood River Economic Partnership, said he couldn’t speak for the partnership, as its members have not discussed the issue, but he personally is “totally in favor” of a pathway.
“As a longtime experienced business guy, I think it would be great,” Brown said. “It would just be so practical. We’ve just got to get all this extreme stuff out of politics, get smart and do the things we need to do. And this is a big one. It’s been going on a long time and it needs to be handled.”
This may indeed be the year that the issue is “handled.” In President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address in February, he called on Congress to quickly pass sweeping immigration measures. The Idaho Statesman reported that Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, said, “This is the year to do something,” at a packed town meeting at Meridian City Hall in late January.
Labrador is a key leader on the issue in the House of Representatives. Currently, bipartisan groups in both the House and the Senate are drafting immigration reform bills. Both groups claim their bill will be finished soon, but neither bill had been released by press deadline Thursday.
On his website, Labrador calls himself the “go-to guy on immigration.” He was born in Puerto Rico and practiced immigration law for 15 years before going into politics. Labrador favors a “robust” guest worker program over a pathway to citizenship.
“The legislation should not provide a special pathway to citizenship for the millions who have willfully violated our immigration laws,” he stated in an op-ed published by the Los Angeles Times on March 31. “Those who entered the U.S. as children, through no fault of their own, will be allowed to have a pathway to citizenship.”
Labrador states that it would be a “travesty” to treat people who violate immigration law better than those who immigrate “the right way.”
In August, the federal government launched a deferred-deportation program that allows immigrants who entered the country as youths to apply to stay and obtain a work permit.
Ketchum attorney Adam King said he hopes that citizenship will be the ultimate goal.
“[I hope] our neighbors, friends and fellow residents can stop living in the shadows and become legitimate and more productive members of our society,” he said.
Another Ketchum attorney, Amanda Breen, said allowing undocumented immigrants to have the same legal rights and responsibilities as “the rest of us” will strengthen the economic and social bonds among county residents.
“You’d be surprised at how many people here in the valley are working alongside us in an undocumented status,” she said.
That number is unavailable, but according to the 2010 U.S. Census, 15.3 percent of Blaine County residents are foreign born, compared to 5.9 percent in Idaho and 12.8 percent in the U.S.
Jacquelyn Jones, a Dual Immersion kindergarten teacher at Bellevue Elementary School, is searching for an immigration attorney to donate time to a free clinic that she hopes to establish to help undocumented youth in the county apply for deferred action.
“Documented or not, they’re part of our community,” she said. “Most were brought to the U.S. at a very young age and grew up in the community unaware of the situation they were in until they reached pre-adult or adulthood.”
Jones, whose husband, Ulises Odio, is from Costa Rica, said building a healthy and legal community is the responsibility of all taxpayers, just like education.
According to figures from March 15 from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Citizenship and Immigration Services, 453,589 people have applied for the program nationwide since its inception and 245,493 have been approved.
The idea of deferred deportation was based on the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act (“The Dream Act”), introduced by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, in 2001. It has twice failed in Congress.
“We are a nation of immigrants, and the Dreamers of today are the doctors, nurses, airline pilots, governors and policemen of tomorrow,” King said.
Next week: How immigration reform could affect law enforcement, health care and education in Blaine County.
Beware of scams
Ketchum immigration attorneys Amanda Breen and Adam King, both of whom are members of the American Immigration Lawyer’s Association, warn Blaine County residents seeking immigration-related legal services to watch out for fraudulent providers, often called “notarios.”
“Notarios generally accept clients’ money and prepare immigration applications for them without doing any legal analysis of whether the client actually qualifies for immigration benefits,” Breen said. “I’ve seen clients put into deportation proceedings after notarios filed applications for them that had no chance of success.”
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Citizenship and Immigration Services agency website states that in many Latin American countries, the term “notario publico” (“notary public” in English) is used to describe “powerful attorneys with special legal credentials.” According to the website, in the U.S., notaries public are appointed by state governments to witness document signings and administer oaths and are not authorized to provide legal services.
“The Internet, newspapers, radio, community bulletin boards and storefronts are filled with advertisements offering immigration help,” the website states. “Only an attorney or an accredited representative working for a Board of Immigration Appeals-recognized organization can give you legal advice.”