Official teaches basics of immigration rules


(Published October. 19, 2006,9:31 a.m.)

Speaker part of Whitewater's community outreach program

By Mike Heine

The Week

There are only five ways for foreign nationals to come and stay in the United States for an extended period of time.

They can marry a U.S. citizen, marry a person with legal permanent status who petitions for their citizenship, get petitioned by an employer, come on a student visa or be a tourist.

Valentin Obregon, Sr., a community liaison officer for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, explained these and other immigration rules to about 20 people at the Cravath Lakefront Center in Whitewater Wednesday night. The meeting was part of the Whitewater Police Department's community outreach program, tailored toward Latinos but open for everyone to attend.

"Remember one thing. We chose to be here, not over there," Obregon said to a room full of mostly Latino persons. "And we have laws that we need to follow. There's no question about that."

Obregon explained the functions of his department, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency and the U.S. Customs Border Protection Agency, all three of which fall under the Department of Homeland Security.

He then went over some of the general rules and available benefits for immigrants-such as reminding attendees that if they have a Green Card and move, they must notify his department to maintain their citizenship status.

And if they are pending legal citizenship status, they must not leave the country without being approved through an "advance parole" process.

"If you left without permission and you went back home, you're not going to get let back in," he said. "If you try to come back in, then you broke the law, again. And that's worse."

Each immigrant's status is analyzed on a case-by-case basis, Obregon said. There are a lot of laws and procedures to follow, so the most important thing to do is ask for help.

For legal permanent residents, the most important thing to do is attempt to gain legal U.S. citizenship, Obregon said.

"Nothing's going to happen to you. I promise you," he said.

He then joked, "You're still going to like tacos, Coronas, fYtbal. I promise."

Apply for citizenship soon, Obregon said. The federal government is considering price hikes-possibly double current prices-for citizenship applications.

Juan Gomez, a UW-Whitewater student and Mexican-American, said most of the people attending the meeting understood the citizenship process.

It's unfortunate though, that people can only become citizens through limited opportunities, he said.

"If you have nothing on the outside, you really can't have the American dream unless you already have one foot here," he said.

Gomez said people immigrate to America to find a better life.

"I just wish the general public would understand that the people that are here with no documents are here in need," he said. "It's not because they wanted to break the law.

"We agree with the government that criminals should be punished. We agree that the law should be enforced. We want to follow the law. We want to comply with every rule. We just ask for the opportunity to do that."

Light on in Whitewater

The spotlight is shining on immigration issues in Whitewater following an Aug. 8 raid at Star Packaging, a local company.

Immigration officials detained 25 suspected illegal Mexican immigrants and the business owner was arrested for allegedly conspiring to commit identity theft.

While Whitewater police say the raid and the arrests were a microcosm of what's happening nationally, Wednesday's meeting was not seen as a way to make amends with a Latino community that was outraged by the situation.

"We planned to do this before the Star Packaging operation began," Chief Jim Coan said. "We want to reach out to discuss issues of mutual concern."

People were scared to come, Gomez said.

"There is a lot of mistrust," he said. "That's why you didn't see a lot of people here. They thought immigration was coming."

Coan said it's disheartening people in the community have said they distrust local police since the raid. Nobody at police-sponsored outreach meetings is asked for their name or identification.

Coan assured the recent Star Packaging investigation by Whitewater investigators was into alleged identity thefts, which is a growing crime nationwide.

He added that his department has received no documented complaints of racial profiling. The chief encouraged anyone who has such a complaint to come forward and report it.

"We're very transparent in our policies and we have anti-discrimination enforcement policies," he said.

***** BREAK OUT*****

For more

Visit the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Web site at, or call, (800) 375-5283.





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