September 25, 2012

Burmese Immigrants Awed by Democracy Leader in Fort Wayne

Burmese immigrants who attended an Indiana speech by Myanmar's opposition leader say the Nobel laureate was inspiring and brought some of them to tears.

San San Oo left Burma in 2006 and now lives in Fort Wayne. She says seeing Aung San Suu Kyi during her Tuesday visit to Fort Wayne was wonderful and left her almost speechless. She called the 67-year-old Suu Kyi "our mother.''

Suu Kyi spoke to about 5,100 people at Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne, an Indiana city with one of the nation's largest Burmese populations.

Han Han Thi of East Lansing, Mich., left Burma in 2002. She says she's glad Suu Kyi called for an end to the tough economic sanctions that Burma has faced for years.

September 05, 2012

Indiana Legislators Want to Defend Immigration Law

Three state senators say Indiana's attorney general effectively nullified their votes when he opted not to defend sections of a state immigration law he said were rendered invalid when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down similar parts of an Arizona law.

Republican Senators Mike Delph, Brent Steele and Phil Boots are asking a federal judge to allow them to defend the parts of the law the attorney general won't.

The attorney general's office said in July it would recommend that federal Judge Sarah Evans Barker strike down most of the portions of the Indiana law that enables police to make warrantless arrests based on certain common immigration documents.

It said he high court ruling rendered those sections of the Indiana law invalid.

The senators say Indiana's law differs from Arizona's.

August 27, 2012

Illinois, Indiana to Provide Licenses to Some Illegal immigrants

Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio are planning to provide driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants who get work papers under a new federal policy.

The Obama administration policy, called “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals,” will allow as many as 1.7 million illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children to get Social Security and employment-authorization cards, along with a deportation reprieve. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services began accepting applications Aug. 15.

“As long as the Social Security Administration issues an individual with a Social Security number, and they have the other documents that are required under Illinois law, then they can apply for a driver’s license,” said Henry Haupt, spokesman for Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, who oversees that state’s driver licensing.

Illinois Public Radio surveyed eight Midwestern states about their response to the policy change. Along with the four states planning to provide licenses, Wisconsin and Iowa officials said they had not decided yet, while Minnesota and Missouri officials did not respond to numerous Illinois Public Radio inquiries.

The states planning to issue the driver’s licenses differ from Arizona, Nebraska and Texas, where governors have vowed to block illegal immigrants from getting licenses.

The immigrants must meet several requirements to get the Social Security and work-authorization cards, including having been younger than 31 on June 15; having arrived in the U.S. before turning 16; having lived in the country continuously since June 2007; being a student or graduate, or having served in the military; and having no serious criminal record nor posing any public safety threat. The work authorization will last up to two years and, if the federal policy stays in place, be renewable. The policy does not provide a path to citizenship.

Assuming some of the immigrants have been driving illegally, states that enable them to get a license could make roads safer. “They have to pass the road exam, they have to pass the written exam, and they pass the vision test,” Haupt said about Illinois. “We require so many different things of our young drivers and — by doing so — they, of course, become better drivers.”

Illinois also requires proof of liability insurance on the car the driver uses for the road test. So it’s possible that allowing undocumented immigrants to drive legally could reduce the number of uninsured vehicles.

The immigrants themselves have more at stake. Karen Siciliano Lucas, an advocacy attorney of the Washington-based Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc., points out that driver’s licenses are vital for working and attending school in most regions of the country. “Not only that, it is a state-issued identification that shows who you are,” she said.

The issue is complicated because most states require driver-license applicants to prove “lawful status” or “legal presence” in the United States. Officials in some states say the work authorization under the Obama policy will be sufficient proof. But a USCIS statement says the policy “does not confer lawful status upon an individual.” It’s unclear whether courts will enable states to define lawful status differently than the federal government does.

States expecting Obama administration guidance about the driver’s licenses could be waiting awhile. In response to Illinois Public Radio questions, the Department of Homeland Security sent a statement saying the department does not comment on state-specific matters.

Until federal courts weigh in, states are likely to face lawsuits no matter their course. “We will see battles on this,” Lucas predicted.

Making matters more complicated is the federal Real ID Act, a 2005 law aimed at fighting identity theft and keeping terrorists out of federal buildings and airplanes. Among other things, the act requires states to verify that driver’s license applicants have lawful status in the United States.

The law is set to take effect in January, but it’s not clear how the Obama administration will enforce it. DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano has fought for the measure’s repeal, calling it unworkable.

That irks advocates for tougher immigration enforcement: “If you want to protect against identify theft, you’ve got to eliminate the fraud,” said Janice Kephart, who focuses on national security policies for the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies. “That means you have to eliminate the illegal-alien community out of that scheme. It doesn’t mean that states cannot give driver’s licenses to illegal aliens. It just means that they have to do it outside the Real ID Act.”

Kephart praised Utah, which has created a “driving-privilege card” specifically for undocumented immigrants.

At the moment the only other states that let undocumented immigrants drive legally are New Mexico and Washington, which provide them the same licenses that U.S. citizens can get.

August 26, 2012

Delegate Has High Hopes for DuPage Democrats

Moises Garcia, 28, isn’t one to sit still when it comes to politics. The DuPage County Democrat is going to his party's national convention in North Carolina, and he proudly talks of knocking on doors and getting signatures.

However, garnering support for the Democratic Party can be a challenge in DuPage County, which has not been all that blue in Illinois.

"When you’re walking in DuPage County, you have to expect that you’re going to get frustrated from time to time," Garcia said. "I mean, I’ve had some doors slammed in my face, you know, and some civil debates, we’ll say."

That said, Garcia said he has seen events for young DuPage Democrats grow in the few years he’s been involved.

"You’ll be surprised at how many doors you knock on and people are, ‘Oh, man. There’s Democrats here?’ ‘Yeah, there’s a lot of us. You’re not the only one,"' he said.

Garcia works as a coordinator at a water softener assembly plant in the northwest suburbs.

He said his parents inspired him to spend so much time on politics. Garcia’s dad immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico in the early 70s and Garcia worries about the kids of other immigrants who would qualify for paths to citizenship if Congress ever passes the DREAM Act.

"A lot of the DREAMers out here had no choice on when they came and I’m afraid in the current political climate, especially if you see Romney and Ryan win this election, that they will not be awarded the same opportunities that my father had," he said.

Garcia said a lot of his dinner table conversations growing up revolved around unions. His dad was a member of the United Steelworkers, and  when he sees labor losing ground in Illinois and other states, like Wisconsin, it motivates him to get involved.

"My dad always told me, ‘It’s easy to complain about something. But if you’re going to complain, you better get out there and do something about it.’ So that’s what I decided to do," he said.

Garcia said he’s happy to cheer Barack Obama on at the convention, but to him all politics is local. He’s already working on DuPage County races, even down to the contests for Forest Preserve commissioners.

immigrants stand outside Chicago's Navy Pier waiting for guidance with a new federal program that would help them avoid deportation.
Sitthixay Ditthavong/The Associated Press
August 15, 2012

Undocumented Immigrants Apply for Deportation Reprieve

It is estimated that more than a million illegal immigrants could be eligible for a new program available on Wednesday through the Department of Homeland Security. The policy, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, would let illegal immigrants stay in the U.S. and get a two-year work permit.

Among the requirements for the program, applicants must be 30-years-old or younger, demonstrate that they arrived in the United States before turning 16, and they have lived in the country continuously for five years. They also must be a student or graduate or have served in the military, among other requirements.

Bloomington resident Maria Guerrero, 18, is an undocumented immigrant, who came to the United States when she was eight. She is attending Heartland Community College in Normal, and aspires to be a psychiatrist. Guerrero said she plans on applying for the immigration program.

“Well, it’s a big importance," Guerrero said. "I could finally be able to have a good social security. I can drive without any worries. I can finally have a lot of opportunities.”

In Chicago, thousands of young undocumented immigrants lined up Wednesday at Navy Pier for help with paperwork as the Department of Homeland Security began taking applications for deportation deferrals and work permits under the new policy.

Elizabeth Espinosa, a Chicago resident who arrived at Navy Pier hours before the event's 9 a.m. start time, said she was applying so she could attend college to become a registered nurse.

“It means not just equality, but ... a better hope for us and our future children,” Espinosa said. “It means so much more than just a piece of paper. It means our whole lives.”

President Barack Obama authorized the policy after attempts at passing similar legislation failed. Critics of the program have called the policy backdoor amnesty, saying it could lead to fraud. Republicans have called the policy an election-year maneuver that bypasses Congress and favors illegal immigrants over U.S. citizens.

Mitt Romney — the party’s presumed presidential nominee — has talked about vetoing the Dream Act if it were ever passed and has suggested pushing undocumented immigrants, as he puts it, to “self-deport.” Romney has not promised to keep Obama’s deferred-action policy in place.

The election and its possible impact on the deferred-action policy has Chicago immigration attorney Robert Cotter calling the public event at Navy Pier “reckless.” He adds that the immigrants ought to wait to submit the paperwork until they see who wins November’s election.

“We could have a new president, Cotter said. “That new president could undo what’s been done in one day. One signature could undo everything. So I’m counseling my clients, ‘Look, you survived this far. If you can wait another 10 - 11 weeks, you’re going to be a lot more certain that you’re really going to get that work permit and that you’re not going to get a notice to appear in immigration court.’”

That sentiment didn’t sit well with U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), one of the principal sponsors of the Dream Act. The senator attended Wednesday’s event and gestured to hundreds of young people filling out their applicants in the ballroom, saying it will be politically unfeasible to reverse this policy.

“I will tell you the force that they are creating is a moral force here, beyond a legal force,” Durbin said. “It is a moral force that, I believe, that as the American people support this 2 to 1, that’s what the polls tell us. They will support these young people being protected. If someone later comes along and tries to exploit the fact that they did the right thing, they did what they were told legally.”

Immigrant advocates and others cautioned that the applications for deferred-action include all sorts of things — fingerprints, information about family members — that would be useful for deporting people.

The Department of Homeland Security says it won’t use such information for enforcement unless there’s evidence of criminal activity.

The Habeeb family
(Sean Powers/WILL)
August 01, 2012

Neighbors: Habeeb Habeeb

Illinois Public Media’s Neighbors series is designed to introduce us all to our neighbors here in east central Illinois. If you have an interesting neighbor you think we should know about, tell us – you can e-mail us at

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