Coming Together

Coming Together

Laura Valle is the founder and executive director of La Voz, a nonprofit that provides integration assistance to immigrants, but Aug. 16, Valle was simply a small business owner sharing her story.

Valle, along with her husband, owns Valle StoneWorks Inc.

"Over the past year, we have gone through all the ups and downs of any small business," she said.

Part of the couple's responsibility is verifying employees' legal status. Valle said just recently the company had to fire an employee that they had high hopes for because they received a so-called "no match" letter from the Social Security Administration saying the employee's name and social security number didn’t match the agency's records.

"I know a CEO of a big service-industry company that has thousands of employees. He's said they have received no match letters on about half of them," she said.

Valle's story was meant to illustrate just how complicated the issues surrounding illegal immigration can be.

LAST WEDNESDAY, La Voz hosted a panel discussion on immigration, which included Valle, as well as Sheriff Steve Simpson; Rob Rutland-Brown, executive director of Just Neighbors, and Flavia Jimenez, an attorney with the National Council of La Raza. More than 55 people crowded into a room at the Ida Lee Recreation Center to hear information on the 287g program, which is a partnership between local law enforcement and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE); the different levels of immigration status; and examples of local jurisdictions across the country trying to stem the tide of illegal immigration.

One of the things Valle said was that no one at the discussion supports illegal immigration, however, not all immigrants are illegal.

"We do recognize immigration is a complex issue and there is no simple solutions," said Edwin Andrade, La Voz board member. "But when we look at each other as human beings, we really can't fight with that."

Rutland-Brown said that there were about 11 million to 13 million immigrants nationally that are considered undocumented. Of those, about 60 percent came to the U.S. without proper documentation while the remainder came with proper temporary documentation, for example a student visa, and stayed past the expiration date.

He said immigrants fall into one of three status categories: permanent, temporary and undocumented. In addition, there are also immigration protections for people who are victims of domestic violence and under what is called temporary protected status, which is for people who may have come to the U.S. undocumented, but then something happened in their home country that prevents them from returning. For example, people who fled El Salvador after Hurricane Mitch in 1998 have temporary protected status, which is renewable annually until the U.S. deems it safe for them to return to their home country. Rutland-Brown also said Libyans have temporary protected status until October when it runs out.

"It's a murky issue, it's not black and white," Rutland-Brown said. "People can fall back and forth between statuses."

Immigrants can gain permanent status through family members, by being declared refugees or those granted asylum, or through diversity lotteries. But the process can be a lengthy one, Rutland-Brown said, in some cases it can take up to 20 years to achieve permanent status.

Temporary status applies to tourists, students, athletes, anyone who has shown they intend to return to their home country. Undocumented immigrants are those who enter the country without proper documentation.

LOCALLY, SIMPSON said he has submitted the necessary paperwork to enter into an agreement with ICE, known as the 287g program. Under the agreement, specially trained deputies will be able to delve into someone's immigration status after that person is believed to have committed another crime. Simpson said the checks take place now, but are conducted strictly be ICE agents. If the suspect is determined to be in the country illegal and is what ICE considers the "worse of the worse" that person would be turned over to ICE, after completing any local sentence for the crime committed, for deportation proceedings.

Simpson said included in the "worse of the worse" are known gang members and someone who has previously been deported and returned to the U.S. He also requested driving while under the influence and repeated misdemeanor offenses to be included in the agreement as grounds for checking immigration status.

"It is not an open invitation to walk up to anyone. We want it to be limited. It's controlled by them [ICE]," Simpson said. "The local authority doesn't have the authority to deport."