NWI residents say immigration amnesty for kids will help many
BY Teresa Auch Schultz firstname.lastname@example.org June 15, 2012 4:20PM
Updated: July 17, 2012 12:44PM
Brenda has lived in Lake County for more than half her life and has graduated from both high school and college here.
However, she has been here illegally the entire time. She has had to be careful about what she did and where she worked to avoid risking deportation to Mexico.
A legal future in the United States might now be available to Brenda, who did not want to use her last name, after President Barack Obama announced Friday his administration would stop deporting undocumented immigrants who came here as children.
“I was so happy,” Brenda said of her reaction to the news. “I started calling everybody.”
Brenda, who is in her mid-20s, came to the United States with her parents before she was a teenager and started learning the language as soon as she could. Although she always knew she was an illegal immigrant, Brenda said, she didn’t realize exactly what that meant until she was a senior in high school trying to apply to colleges, which she couldn’t get into because of her immigration status.
“It was a little depressing,” she said. “You realize you are different than everyone else.”
Despite her status, Brenda says she considers herself an American and that the United States is her country. All her friends are here, she said, and she always wanted to go to college. She was finally able to find a university that would take her and, while working full-time, she was able to graduate seven years later.
Brenda said she’s always been concerned about possibly getting deported and has tried to stay busy through work and volunteering to keep her mind off of it.
She isn’t alone in Northwest Indiana, Lawrence Sharp, executive director of the International Community Alliance in Gary, said. The ICA works with people in the same situation, he said, who have lived here most of their lives and are completely assimilated into the culture.
“If they had to go back to Mexico, they probably couldn’t operate,” he said.
Most of them have gone to high school and college and obey the laws for the most part, he said. The biggest violation for many of them is driving without a license, which they can’t get if they’re not here legally, he said.
He praised the move by Obama, saying it will help these people to become fully engaged members of the country. Their parents are often embarrassed about the situation they’ve put their children in, he said, and this will help to relieve them.
‘It’s our home’
Adeline Torres, head of Hispanic services for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Gary, said the church has already started working on getting information out to local immigrants.
“This is going to help a lot of kids, especially the ones in school right now or the ones wanting to go to school,” she said.
It’s in the country’s interest to make sure these immigrant children are well-educated so they can help pay taxes and support struggling programs such as Social Security, she said. Torres also stressed that it’s much harder to become a citizen than it was when citizens’ ancestors came to America. The waiting time now can be anywhere from 12 to 20 years.
Brenda said she has many friends in her situation and they struggle once they graduate from college because they can’t find jobs.
“They have so many things to contribute because they have the will, they have the desire,” she said.
Brenda, who is married to a U.S. citizen, had already started the process of obtaining legal status. However, she said, that is a long and complicated process, and she will probably also start exploring the new process the Obama administration is setting up for people like her.
She cautioned people about judging those like her, who came here illegally as children. Brenda has listened to strong negative comments about illegal immigrants while the national debate has raged and has seen how it can affect fellow children, who feel like they won’t ever be able to go to college or achieve their dreams.
“We know it’s not right how our parents brought us here, but it’s our home,” she said.