North Texas Daily

Denton county provides outreach and assistance for immigrants

Denton county provides outreach and assistance for immigrants

Denton county provides outreach and assistance for immigrants
August 26
00:26 2014

Dalton LaFerney / Senior staff writer

The nation has spotlighted illegal immigration as lawmakers shape a solution for the current Mexico-U.S. border fight. As the laws change, thousands of immigrants face a darkening predicament.

Immigration laws come with the many technicalities, ins-and-outs and discouraging red tape. Legal pro-ceedings vary with the client, and rulings and loopholes are specific to the individual case. Attorneys too often find themselves in the helpless predicament: “I’m sorry. I can’t help you.”

“The key thing to know about immigration is that it’s a very large area to cover,” said Jane Gekham, an attor-ney for Yale Law in Denton. “It’s one of the hardest areas to practice. Everything in immigration law is very fact-specific.”

Gekham is a UNT alum who, with her family, immigrated to the United States from Ukraine when she was young. She specializes in family and immigration law.

When she first began her practice, Gekham had the misconception many have when it comes to immi-gration—that immigration clients would be Spanish speakers.

“We have people who are from Canada, from Bulgaria, from Ukraine, from Honduras,” she said. “Living here in Texas, so many speak Spanish so we automatically assume those are the people who are going to need help. But the reality is people from everywhere have immigration issues and they need help.”

A Lasting Process

Gekham said immigration attorneys see a lot of family-based cases regarding people who come to the states illegally, meet a legal U.S. citizen, get married, but are later revoked of citizenship. Immigration law also has helped  victims of crimes. Gekham recalled a client who was shot five times, and witnessed a triple homicide. He was given a U Visa, which is a specific Visa for victims willing to assist law enforce-ment in its investigations.

Other clients of immigration law may seek asylum, and then go through the legal process, which Gekham says can take months, maybe even years. One of Gekham’s clients changed her religion and feared persecution upon returning to her home country in the Middle East.

In such cases, the government will review a form called I-589 Petition for Asylum, which inquires into the background of the person soliciting asylum. The home government will be researched and consulted based on the information given.

Other immigration law services include employment-based Visa extensions, student-based extensions and the most topical, the naturalization process.

The plaintiff’s attorneys must prove ground for appeal to the immigration authorities. The individual will eventually meet with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) officials for interviews and back-ground checks. Eventually, in order for citizenship, the person must take the Naturalization Test.

The study materials given to the testers include a vocabulary list and 100 questions for the civics exam. During the oral exam, a USCIS officer asks the applicant 10 of the 100 questions, six of which must be answered correctly to pass the portion of the test.

Fairness for All

Some immigrants fear exploitation from employers.

Organizations like the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) are setup to protect the wellbeing of Hipanics without a voice. LULAC’s focus isn’t on the legal proceedings of the immigration system. Rather, it acts as an outreach program.

LULAC also awards annual scholarships to Hispanic students. Last year, 17 students from UNT, Texas Women’s University and North Central Texas College were awarded $200,000 in scholarships.

Denton LULAC President Alfredo Sanchez said the scholarships, sponsored by outside donors, usually range from $600 to $1,500. Some scholarships through UNT and TWU can pay for a student’s entire four-year tuition.

This year LULAC will target voter registration in an attempt to get the Hispanic community active in lawmaking and policy, Sanchez said.

“By the year 2020, the Hispanic community will be the majority in Texas,” Sanchez said. “But a lot of the first-generation Hispanics that are here cannot vote and what we are trying to do is get the young Hispanic voters out there.”

Sanchez, who has worked with LULAC for three years, said the key to elections is not only young Hispanic voters but rather, all young people.

Texas is 42nd in the nation in voter turnout. As it stands now, Texans over the age of 55 mostly represent the state’s politics.

According to the United States Census Bureau, Hispanics and Latinos make up 38.4 percent of Texas’ population.

In Denton, Hispanics and Latinos comprise 21.2 percent of the population.

“If we could get them to vote, we could make a big impact as to what policies would run this state,” Sanchez said.

An Uncertain Future

With immigration as a hot national discussion, President Barack Obama devoted 0.1 percent ($2 billion) of his 2015 budget to reform.

Because racial profiling is illegal, there is no precise way of knowing the exact number of immigrants who are in an area.

However, according to the Denton County Sheriff’s Department, at any given time there are usually about 100 immigrants in Denton.

When an officer with the Denton Police Department or the Sheriff’s Department arrests an immigrant, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) pickup is requested while the accused proceeds through the booking process and is then housed in the county jail.

It usually takes about 48 hours for ICE to retrieve the immigrant for deportation.

Sandi Brackeen, public information officer for the sheriff’s office, said it costs about $150,000 a month to house them.

The county doesn’t get compensation from the state because of the short amount of time spent in county lock-up.

For now, it seems, as Washington is on leave, the cycle will remain the same as nonprofits and legal councils continue to alleviate the pressure for the many immigrants claiming Denton as their new home.

Featured Image: A 20 foot, multi-million dollar high-tech fence. Photo courtesy of the National Border Patrol Council’s Facebook.

About Author

Dalton LaFerney

Dalton LaFerney

Dalton is the editor of the Daily.

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