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Immigration Debate Leaves Undocumented People In Limbo

Deportations are down 10 percent in the U.S. from 2012 to 2013.

  • Demonstrators are asking congress to provide a pathway to citizenship for the US 11 million undocumented immigrants

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    Photo: Simon Thompson

    A demonstrators are asking congress to provide a pathway to citizenship for the US 11 million undocumented immigrants

  • Christian Cruz makes about $150 a week under the table working as a lawnmower mechanic in Indianapolis

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    Photo: Bill Shaw

    Christian Cruz makes about $150 a week under the table working as a lawnmower mechanic in Indianapolis

In the federal district that includes Indiana, the number of immigrants whose deportation cases were reviewed and were allowed to stay in the U.S. has nearly doubled from about 1,400  in 2010, the year before the first directive took effect, to nearly 2,800  in 2013.

A Second Chance

Christian Cruz came to the U.S. from Mexico City when he was five years old. Now 24, he lives in Indianapolis with his wife and two kids.

“I got a little girl that is 6-years old and a boy that is 2-years old, beautiful kids and I am glad I have them and taking care of them,” he says.

Cruz works as a lawnmower mechanic, making about $150 a week. He is undocumented, so when his name was run in a random police check, law enforcement officers saw that Cruz was supposed to have been deported two years prior. Police arrested him and turned him over to immigration.

“They was going to transfer me to Kentucky – then from there was just gonna just wait for the plane and get on the plane and be in Mexico by Friday,” he says.

But when people heard the father and sole provider of two young children was going to be sent back to Mexico, a country he can’t even remember, Cruz’s story quickly spread across social networks.

The Indiana Undocumented Youth Alliance also put together this web video, featuring Cruz’s mother.

Cinthya Perez, an Indiana Undocumented Youth Alliance advocate, put the web video together and says it was the first time the group  had a public campaign where it advocated for somebody.

“It was the community advocacy piece that really made a difference in Christian’s case,” she says.

Indiana Law Vs. Federal Law

If Cruz lived in another state like California and Illinois where undocumented people can get drivers license’s  and he got picked up in a traffic stop, his fate may have been different. Police officers wouldn’t have had a reason to check his status in the first place, because he would have had a state license.

Indiana enacted laws clamping down on immigrants living in the state illegally in 2011. Law enforcement and the Department of Corrections now have to report any offender whose immigration status can’t be verified to the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) division.

Senator Mike Delph, R-Carmel, authored the law. He says political advocacy shouldn’t affect the course of deportation proceedings.

“Any time that ICE detains somebody and they go through the process and they are ordered by a administrative law judge to be deported and then for political reasons that order is not followed for political reasons – that demoralizes the enforcement of our immigration laws,” says Delph.

Delph says incarcerating undocumented immigrants costs the state nearly $12.5 million every year.

While Indiana’s laws have become stricter on undocumented immigrants, federal law allows more people to stay in the country if they meet certain criteria.

President Barack Obama announced a program in 2012 allowing undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children to apply for protection.

“Eligible individuals who do not represent a risk to public security or public safety will be able to request temporary relief from deportation proceedings and apply for work authorization,” Obama said in the speech announcing the initiative.

The program expanded on a directive issued the year before instructing ICE to focus on deporting immigrants with serious criminal records and to be more lenient on people with families and employment in the U.S.

“It is very demoralizing,” Delph says. “I know that there has been testimony from Capitol Hill and from ICE law enforcement agents that have talked about, you know, politics being injected in what they do. I think it is unfortunate.”

Some Undocumented Immigrants Still In Limbo

The day before he was scheduled to be put on a plane to Mexico, Cruz was released from immigration custody.

“I was like ‘Something is going on,’” Cruz says, recalling the day before his release. “Something wasn’t looking right. They just came next morning and got me and told me I was released.”

Cruz was granted six more months in the country while he applies for deferred action — the federal program that gives temporary work visas and protection for immigrants.

But with the application fee of nearly $500, Cruz says he’s not sure when that is going to happen.

“It’s real hard man. You cant get no real job. You gotta work underneath the table. It’s hard man – its hard. I’ve had hard times and I kind of still do, but I am trying to get it together,” he says.

Cruz was recently taken back into police custody for theft and resisting arrest.

Though he wasn’t turned over to immigration for the offenses, if he’s charged, it will affect his chances of staying with his family in the U.S.

The major sticking point of the debate is a pathway to citizenship. Undocumented immigrants want relief, but conservatives say granting people like Cruz a pathway to citizenship sends the wrong message and provides an incentive for more immigrants to come illegally

In Christian’s case, he was ordered to be deported before the Obama administration’s directives were handed down. Because he stayed and didn’t leave when he was ordered to,

he’s now eligible for a renewable work visa and protection from deportation.