Young immigrants see new citizenship hope (Sun-Times Media)

by Emily McFarlan Miller

Happy Independence Day!

I’m just getting back from five days up at my family’s lake cabin in Wisconsin, doing all the things that make living in America great: getting baby licks from my nephew, cleaning a fish for the first time, roasting hot dogs and s’mores over a bonfire, melting in 100-degree heat. This article of mine ran in the meantime. And it reminded me how much I take for granted as an American citizen (and maybe you do, too).

Family is important to Leslie F.

That’s “where everything starts,” Leslie said. And without her family, she said, she wouldn’t be where she is today.

Literally.

When she was 9, her father emigrated to the area from Mexico. She, her mom and her sister followed a year later.

All since have become U.S. citizens or legal residents with help from the Hispanic social service agency Centro de Informacion in Elgin, Leslie said. All except her.

It’s not that the 27-year-old Schaumburg woman doesn’t want to become a citizen — she “definitely” does, said Leslie, who asked that her last name not be used. She graduated from Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago with a degree in justice studies, took the L-SAT and planned to attend law school.

“I always wanted to help people. As soon as I started with my major, I started becoming more interested in the juvenile court system,” Leslie said.

“The perfect way to get more involved in it is to become a lawyer and eventually be there to help them out. I want to focus on family and in juvenile.”

But without citizenship, without a Social Security number, she can’t get a scholarship or loan, making paying for law school impossible. She has submitted her citizenship paperwork, but she has at least a 12-year wait to get that, she said.

That’s a situation in which “so many” young people in the Elgin area find themselves, according to Jaime Garcia, executive director of Centro de Informacion.

And that is what is so important about President Obama’s announcement in mid-June that his administration would no longer deport the children of immigrants who came to the country illegally, without documentation, Garcia said.

“It’s important for me because it would allow me to pretty much finish my dream,” Leslie said.

It’s difficult to tell how many undocumented young people in the Fox Valley will be affected by the nation’s newest immigration policy. They are, after all, undocumented.

“I would venture to say even thousands,” Dave Richmond said.

Richmond is an immigration attorney with an office in downtown Aurora. In the week after Obama’s announcement, he said his phone rang off the hook.

So did the phones at Centro de Informacion offices in Elgin, Carpentersville and Hanover Park, Garcia said.

The Obama administration’s new policy could allow an estimated 1 million young immigrants across the U.S. to apply for “deferred action” on deportation orders and gain temporary work visas. It allows those who were brought to the U.S. before they turned 16 and are still under age 30, have earned a high school diploma or GED or served in the military and who have no criminal record to stay in the U.S. and to apply for documentation that will allow them to work legally.

“A number of people facing deportation — they graduated high school, they’re going to college,” Richmond said. “Their crime is that they were brought here as children by their parents, and this announcement would allow those people to stay here not with legal status, not with a green card, just to stay here and obtain work authorization.”

For the rest of the story, read Young immigrants see new citizenship hope (Sun-Times Media).

For more information about Centro de Informacion, read Centro celebrates 40 years of giving help in Elgin area (Sun-Times Media).

Photo credit: Andrew Nelles for Sun-Times Media. Antlers divider by IROCKSOWHAT.

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