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.
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals initiative isn't for everyone.
It's geared toward younger undocumented immigrants — those, roughly, in the high school- and college-aged range all the way up to 31.
“These are young people who study in our schools, they play in our neighborhoods, they're friends with our kids, they pledge allegiance to our flag,” President Obama said last June in announcing the initiative. “They are Americans in their heart, in their minds, in every single way but one — on paper. They were brought to this country by their parents — sometimes even as infants — and often have no idea that they're undocumented until they apply for a job or a driver's license, or a college scholarship.”
As of Jan. 17, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services had received 407,899 applications per program guidelines from across the nation. Of those, 154,404 had been accepted, providing the successful applicants with Social Security cards, two-year renewable work permits and standing as being “lawfully present” in the country.
Many rules and restrictions apply. Deferred action applicants must have come to the United States before they turned 16 and they have to have been here since June 15, 2007. Those convicted of felonies or three or more misdemeanors are not eligible and applicants must be in school, have finished high school or be honorably discharged from the U.S. armed forces.
Though praised by undocumented immigrants and their advocates, not everyone looks favorably on the change.
Critics say it's unconstitutional. By creating a new mechanism for undocumented immigrants to remain in the country, it forces U.S. immigration officials to ignore existing immigration law. A group of 10 Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents are suing to halt the change.
More generally, the foes charge that it makes sketchy enforcement of immigration laws even sketchier and, by allowing more undocumented immigrants to remain, increases competition with Americans for jobs.
“The policy implications of this program are just a disaster,” said Rosemary Jenks, director of government relations for NumbersUSA, an Arlington, Va.-group that dubs itself an “immigration-reduction organization.” The deferred action program, she said, is sending the message to the world that the United States is not serious about enforcing its immigration laws.