Sanctuary audience sees light of legality
The light wasn’t great inside St. Joseph Catholic Church, but it was obvious that many of the more than 100 people who lined the church’s pews had hopes of emerging from the shadows.
They listened intently to the speaker before them — and dozens raised their hands during his presentation to ask pointed questions.
In Spanish, of course.
The speaker was Eddie Soto, the Western Slope organizer for the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition. He was conducting one of a number of meetings organized by his and other groups to share detailed information about the new Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — a controversial directive from the Obama administration that allows undocumented youths to stay in the country if they meet certain eligibility requirements.
Individuals up to 30 years of age can request deferred action if they came to the United States before their 16th birthday; have continuously resided in the U.S. between June 15, 2007, and the present; are in school, graduated from school, obtained a GED, or were honorably discharged from the military; and have never been convicted of a felony or “significant” misdemeanor.
If they receive deferred action, they can also get a document that allows them to legally work in the U.S.
The deferrals last for two years and can be renewed, according to a Department of Homeland Security website.
The total cost to apply is $465.
Soto’s primary focus on this particular night last week was helping people negotiate the process, providing specifics about what documentation they’ll need to collect and translate in order to apply.
“Everything that documents your life,” Soto said, including school transcripts, medical records, utility and cell phone bills, even certificates of participation on athletic teams and in English classes. “Anything that they can to prove that they’ve been here.”
The next step for many of the people in attendance will be preparing for a Sept. 22 legal clinic planned by CIRC and another local advocacy group, the Hispanic Affairs Project. Immigration lawyers will be on hand to check applications and documentation before people send in their paperwork.
“Certainly, any immigration process is overwhelming. There’s a lot of paperwork, and a lot of documents to collect, a lot of proof needed to try and demonstrate your presence,” said Nicole Bernal Ruiz, with the HAP group.
The church seemed a fitting setting for the analogy Soto drew when asked if he could pin down the federal government’s new attitude toward this group of undocumented people. He called it a kind of “purgatory.”
“It’s an interesting status they’re going to be at. It’s not totally resident. There’s no path to citizenship, as if you were a resident. But it’s not getting deported either,” he said. “So, it’s not the hell that they’ve been living in. But it’s not the heaven of citizenship either.”
Meeting organizers also were signing up volunteers whom they will train to assist others in compiling everything they need for their applications. People interested in volunteering need not speak Spanish and can get more information by contacting HAP at 249-4115.
Estimates by the Pew Hispanic Center say that as many as 1.7 million of the 4.4 million undocumented immigrants age 30 and under could qualify for the program.