Editor's note: Elkhart County has its share of undocumented immigrants.
Drawn largely by factory jobs, they work here, for sure. But it doesn't end there — they go to school here, shop here, play here, pray here. Judging by data and anecdotal information from schools, employers and the U.S. Census Bureau, they're focused in the growing Latino community, now 14.5 percent of the local population, and come chiefly from Mexico.
In this three-day series, Out of the Shadows, we meet some of the younger undocumented immigrants trying to secure a place in the community via the new Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals initiative. Some have already received work permits and permission to remain, for now. If they have their way, they're here to stay.
Sunday, Feb. 3: Out of the shadows; meet Michelle Salgado; and more on deferred action.
Today, Feb. 4: Meet Dara Marquez; meet Luis; and meet Erick.
Tuesday, Feb. 5: Meet Cinthia Coronado.
ELKHART — Suddenly, undocumented immigrants — relegated, by and large, to the shadows of society — have a potential future as U.S. citizens.
This past week, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators unveiled an immigration reform proposal — praised by President Obama — that would create a means for undocumented immigrants to potentially attain U.S. citizenship. More immediately, undocumented immigrants in high school and college have a means to stay here legally, work even, through the new Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals initiative, authorized last year by Obama.
It's got Elkhart County immigrants and their advocates thrilled, hopeful. Many have already applied for deferred action and some have garnered the status, which lets them stay here and work here legally. Legally.
They're edging out of the shadows.
They're shedding fears of being deported, being fingered as outsiders, unworthy.
Like it or not, they're staking a claim to a legitimate spot in the community.
“It's a public recognition of your own humanity,” said Elkhart immigration attorney Rosy Meza, alluding to the deferred action process. “Their personhood is actually being recognized.”
Cynthia Murphy, a counselor at Indiana University South Bend who works with Latino and undocumented students, thinks carving a place for undocumented immigrant students will let them show their worth, writ large. Though not here legally, they've been contributing — at high school, at church, in college — and they're striving for more.
Among many others, there's Erick, an Elkhart Memorial High School grad who dreams of serving in law enforcement or the U.S. Marines. There's Cinthia Coronado, a Goshen High School grad studying to be a radiologist.
Letting them stay, letting them study, granting them work permits via deferred action “brings what they've already been doing as far as contributing to society out into the open,” Murphy said. “This just brings their contributions to a more visible light.”
Deferred action, geared to young undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children, enables eligible recipients to remain here and work here legally. Felons aren't eligible, other rules and restrictions apply and recipients — who complete an application process with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services — achieve deferred action status for two-year, renewable periods.
DEBATE REACHING CRESCENDO
Deferred action, however, contains no pathway to citizenship or permanent residency. And of course, nothing in the debate, at this stage, is written in stone.
The U.S. senators' plan — also containing provisions to beef up border security and crack down on employers hiring illegal immigrants — will face plenty of scrutiny. It's got its critics. There's no guarantee it'll pass.
The deferred action process was authorized by Obama last year. It's not faced legislative scrutiny and faces a legal challenge by 10 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents who say it makes them violate federal immigration laws. They're supposed to apprehend undocumented immigrants, the agents argue in the suit, not point them toward the deferred action process, as they say is now required.
Indeed, though undocumented immigrants have their advocates, they also have their foes.
They're not here legally.
They're taking jobs from Americans.
They're sapping U.S. resources, via the cost of educating them in public schools, the cost of processing the law breakers among the bunch, the cost of providing for their health care needs.
Wherever you stand, though, the debate rages and it's not likely to fade away. More and more are attaining deferred action status, 154,404 nationwide as of Jan. 17, according to USCIS figures. And with the new congressional proposal, the conversation over undocumented immigrants — numbering 11 million or so nationwide — is reaching a crescendo.