Bipartisan immigration reform has many optimistic for positive changes
BY GINNIE GRAHAM World Staff Writer
Thursday, January 31, 2013
1/31/13 at 7:39 AM
Ivan Godinez Reyes received approval on Christmas Eve to stay in the United States under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
The 25-year-old Tulsa resident, who has a high school diploma and an associate degree, had been living in Tulsa as an undocumented immigrant since age 14 when he crossed the Mexican border illegally.
He is cautiously optimistic that the bipartisan immigration reforms proposed Monday will be passed.
"We want to take back the fear in our neighborhoods and community," Reyes said. "When we see someone driving and pulled over, we all wonder if that person has a license or will be taken away and deported. Parents should not have to worry about going to work and not getting back to children because of a minor traffic violation.
"It's something we worry about every day here in Tulsa. People who don't have that threat don't understand what that does to a person."
For years, Reyes has been active in DREAM Act Oklahoma, a youth advocacy group pushing for immigration reform.
The group experienced a partial victory with last year's program to allow a two-year reprieve for a specific group of young immigrants brought into the country illegally by their parents. Part of that approval involves background and character checks.
It gave hope to young immigrants, who then flocked to the immigration service for approval to work, drive and seek higher education.
"It took the fear off our shoulders and gives us opportunities," Reyes said.
They now want more long-lasting reform.
"The national network has changed the conversation to involving our parents," he said. "It's a great start because it has bipartisan support, and that's something we haven't seen in a long time. But there is no mention of stopping deportations for (incidents) like traffic misdemeanors. We're worried that enforcement seems to be the main issue."
For years, his parents would say their dreams are for a better life for their children.
"Now, my dad says he wants citizenship, he wants to visit his family and he wants to apply for different jobs because he has more to offer than construction work," Reyes said. "That's a push for me and younger people. We are pushing for change for them, our parents."
The YWCA Immigrant and Refugee program has experienced a jump of more than 100 clients in Tulsa between October and December, said director Maria Reyes, no relation to Ivan.
Those with the program are preparing for more clients if the immigration reforms pass Congress.
The program has been helping youth with deferred action applications and immigrants with paperwork for stateside waivers and the citizenship process.
The waivers allow immigrants who have married U.S. citizens to stay in the country while their residency status is changed. Previously, immigrants had to return to their country of origin and wait one month to two years for approval.
"We are all for immigration reform because we see it every day," Maria Reyes said. "It is too broken, and we need to fix it. This is a good way for the government to increase its revenue, a wonderful way for people to get work authorization, a way for the government to know who is here and to crack down on people who are criminals."
Francisco Trevino, chief executive officer of the Greater Tulsa Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said he supports the government moving forward with comprehensive immigration reform. Such legislation could immediately have a positive residual impact on the American economy, he said.
"More (immigrants) will be willing to invest in the U.S.," Trevino said. "It will be good for Oklahoma. It will be good for everyone because instead of them sending money back to their country of origin, that money will stay here."
Tulsa immigration attorney David Sobel called the potential for reform in the country's immigration laws "long overdue," adding that it will give immigrants "the chance to be productive citizens."
Sobel said effective immigration reform has the potential to spark job growth, as both white-collar and blue-collar positions could easily be filled by qualified immigrants who are already eager to make a respectable living in the United States.
Both Sobel and Trevino noted that those opposed to immigration changes express apprehension based on lack of understanding of the issues.
"Those who are anti-immigration are usually the most uninformed," Trevino said.
Guillermo Rojas, president and chief executive officer of the Tulsa-based bilingual news publication La Semana Del Sur, said he is optimistic about getting reforms to help undocumented immigrants.
Almost 12 percent of U.S. businesses are owned by Hispanic people, he said.
"It's a positive step because Republicans and Democrats are on the same boat for immigration reform," Rojas said. "It's going to take time to discuss. I think this is finally possible and this is important. It's going to help, and I want it to help."
Staff writer Kendrick Marshall contributed to this story.
Original Print Headline: Immigrants ready for long-lasting law reforms
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Ivan Godinez Reyes: "It's a great start because it has bipartisan support," he said of reforms proposed in Washington on Monday.