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VOL. 130 | NO. 252 | Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Immigration Policies to Have Local Impact

By Bill Dries

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Not that it wasn’t already complicated, but U.S. immigration policy and its enforcement is about to get more complicated.

Recent reports indicate that federal officials are preparing for a series of January immigration raids specifically targeting Central American families in the country illegally for the last year. The raids will reportedly target families already ordered deported by immigration court judges.

For Casey Bryant, managing attorney for Latino Memphis, immigration policy and law often doesn’t match what the public and elected leaders believe the law is.

“When I listen to candidates talk, they are completely ignorant of the immigration laws,” Bryant said on the WKNO TV program Behind The Headlines, recorded before the reports of the upcoming raids that will affect hundreds of undocumented immigrants.

“I think that it needs to be scrapped and start all over,” she said, referring to current immigration laws. “I don’t think it’s going to happen. I think it absolutely needs to happen.”

Behind The Headlines, hosted by Eric Barnes, publisher of The Daily News, can be seen on The Daily News Video page, video.memphisdailynews.com.

Undocumented immigrants are those in the U.S. without permission or whose visas that allowed them to enter legally have expired. Determining how many undocumented immigrants are in the Memphis area is difficult because they are here illegally.

Bryant estimates that through several programs at Latino Memphis, the Latino advocacy organization, she sees 300 undocumented immigrants a year, “which is just a small fraction.”

Their numbers includes families as well as students at most if not all of the city’s universities and colleges who are barred from receiving Pell grants and other state and federal student aid.

A bill to grant in-state tuition rates for undocumented students at public colleges and universities failed in the 2015 session of the Tennessee legislature. The rates for undocumented students at those colleges and universities is more than out-of-state tuition.

Christian Brothers University president John Smarrelli assembled the Latino Student Success Program in response to an undocumented Latina student who was able to enroll at CBU with private aid. Smarrelli then began asking how many other students were in a similar situation.

“We found an enormous number of individuals like her in the Memphis community who are looking to succeed in college and willing to pay for some of that college education,” Smarrelli said on Behind The Headlines.

CBU also offers loans to those students which they pay off a little at a time. The loan proceeds go back into the fund that is replenished to make loans to more students.

“The opportunity for them to work is very important for our particular program,” Smarrelli said. “We say you need to have skin in the game. If they need it they take out a small loan and they begin to pay back that small loan immediately. They are working adults.”

The Latino Student Success program was recognized in October by President Barack Obama. The recognition included CBU student Franky Paz, who was born in Honduras and came to the U.S. with his parents when he was three.

“We have a generation of children,” Smarrelli said. “Are we going to just ignore those children? This is a population where we’ve got to get the cycle of education into this culture sooner rather than later. If we don’t we are really going to be in trouble.”

Paz’s family, which includes children born in Honduras and children born in the U.S., illustrates the complexity of U.S. law and the law’s sometimes “simplistic view of what a real family looks like,” Bryant said.

“There are mixed status families,” she said. “You have the parents who maybe don’t have any status. Three of the six siblings are U.S. citizens. What do you do with those who are citizens, who have a right to be in the United States? I see these situations all the time.”

The situations include a work history even when work visas have expired and paying taxes.

“There’s a strong history of employers bringing people to the United States to work,” Bryant said. “Our economy is based on an immigrant workforce. They file (taxes) because they have U.S. citizen children. They file because they need to have a record of their income. They are paying taxes. They are filing taxes.”

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