Advocates: Immigration progress still needed

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Andrea Anderson
November 21, 2014

President Barack Obama's decision Thursday to provide some version of legal status to as many as 5 million people living illegally in the United States is a step in the right direction but leaves plenty to be done, immigration advocates said.

Parents and spouses of U.S. citizens and permanent residents who have been in the country for at least five years are eligible for work permits and do not have to worry about deportation, Obama said Thursday.

That's a good thing, said Jane Thompson, dean of students and coordinator for international programs at Rock University High School, an alternative Janesville School District high school at UW-Rock County. But Obama's action doesn't address the cost of education for youth who are living in the country illegally, she said.

“When I look back out at this campus, I see the fact that we may have students all over state and Rock County that are excluded from higher education because of the in-state tuition that has been taken away,” Thompson said.

Children who have immigrated to the U.S. are the most entrepreneurial members of society, but without equal access to education, they can't reach their potential and be the best contributing members of society they can be, Thompson said.

Thompson declined to guess how many people locally would be affected by Obama's action.

Nationally, it will affect nearly half of all illegal immigrants, said Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces de la Frontera. About 150,000 illegal immigrants live in Wisconsin, she said.

Voces de la Frontera is a state-wide immigrant rights group based in Milwaukee. It has hosted activities in Janesville.

In March, they held a forum at Mt. Zion United Methodist to encourage people to call upon Obama to take action.

Neumann-Ortiz said she has a friend in Milwaukee who immigrated to the United States and graduated from UW-Milwaukee with an engineering degree. She is here illegally but has a full-time engineering job, a husband who also is undocumented and a daughter who is a U.S. citizen.

She had to pass up several scholarships, internships and jobs because of her citizenship status, Neumann-Ortiz said.

The mother will be protected from deportation under Obama's changes.

Neumann-Ortiz understands why some people may be hesitant to apply for citizenship, fearing the possibility of Obama's decisions being overturned in two years after a different president takes office. She encourages them to apply anyway.

“People can't get comfortable, either, but they won this, and they deserve the security and the relief and dignity that comes with it,” Neumann-Ortiz said. “We just have to keep fighting for all the others who have arbitrarily been excluded."

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