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Michigan Immigrants Hope for "Real Reform" that Keeps Families Together

Parents protesting outside Chavez High School in Detroit. Photo courtesy of AIR-Michigan
Parents protesting outside Chavez High School in Detroit. Photo courtesy of AIR-Michigan
November 13, 2012

DETROIT - Republican leaders in both houses of Congress have dropped their opposition to immigration reform and now say they are serious about passing comprehensive changes to immigration law. In Michigan, immigrants and their families are hopeful. But for 21-year-old Karla Barajas, who was brought to Michigan as a baby, her hope is mixed with fear. That's because her father was picked up during a traffic stop three years ago and deported, and her mother is also undocumented.

"Everyone has their hopes up high right now, but there is still a fear that she could be taken at any given point."

Despite the fact that the political winds are blowing in their favor, Barajas still feels that anyone who looks Hispanic is being targeted. She says comprehensive immigration reform needs to focus on keeping families together, not ripping them apart.

Lance is an American married to a woman who came to the U.S. from Mexico 13 years ago. They have two daughters, ages 5 and 6. He has asked that we keep his last name secret because he is afraid his daughters might be kidnapped. A year ago, two attorneys advised his wife to go back to Mexico to apply for legal status. But she wound up being banned for life from America because she had crossed the border more than once. Lance now lives with his parents, visits his wife and daughters every few months and sends all his money for their support. He says his wife's hometown in Mexico is a very dangerous place for children.

"The police station was bombed. The cartel has gone into hospitals and killed people. The police chief was arrested for kidnapping people."

Lance tried to live with his family but couldn't find work in Mexico. He has moved them to what he hopes is a safer town, but says he just recently heard that someone was murdered in a nearby Starbucks.

Sens. Charles Schumer and Lindsey Graham are working on a bipartisan immigration reform bill, which they say would create a pathway for citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants. Graham told reporters that he wants undocumented people to pay taxes, pay a fine and get in the back of the line.

Michigan community organizer Diego Bonesatti, with Alliance for Immigration Rights and Reform, says there really is no line for people from Mexico. The numbers just don't add up, he says.

"You file your petition today and there are three-quarters of a million people ahead of you. Theoretically, if they all get their visas, it would be 162 years before you got yours."

Bonesatti says reuniting families should be a high priority when considering new legislation.

A post-election poll by the Associated Press found 65 percent favoring a way to allow immigrant workers to become legal.

Mary Anne Meyers, Public News Service - MI