New U.S. deportation policy raises questions about what was and what might be
Deported Utahn frustrated with timing of policy that may have kept him in U.S.
Brian Nicholson, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — From his new home in Chile, Claudio Correa thinks about what might have been.
What if the Obama administration had allowed illegal immigrants facing deportation a chance to stay in the country 10 months earlier? Would his case be among the 300,000 the government intends to review as part of the new policy?
Would he and his wife, Deborah, still be making stained glass windows for LDS temples and other buildings from a studio in Lehi? Would their teenage son and daughter be heading back to American Fork High School next week?
But he also thinks about what could be for those, like him, who aren't criminals, who hold jobs, pay taxes and contribute to society but face deportation.
"I feel happy because I have friends and I know many people living there that could take advantage of this," Correa said. "But at the same time (this) is sad for me because we lost everything."
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested Correa last October on an outstanding deportation order, though he had not received so much as a traffic ticket during 10 years in the United States. His family returned to their native Argentina last November before settling in Concepcion, Chile.
Correa's thoughts come on the heels of the Obama administration announcing Thursday it will give many illegal immigrants an opportunity to stay in the country and apply for a work permit. At the same time, immigration authorities will focus on removing convicted criminals and those who pose a national security or public safety threat.
The policy change drew sharp criticism from some Utah politicians and anti-illegal immigration groups, while being received with cautious optimism in the Latino community.
Rep. Curt Oda, R-Clearfield, called it a "slap in the face" to people trying to enter the United States legally. It's hypocritical, he said, to say people in the country illegally haven't committed any other crimes.
Ron Mortensen, co-founder of the Utah Coalition on Illegal Immigration, said people who have been arrested and allowed to stay only because they don't have an existing criminal record amounts, in most cases, to amnesty from document, Social Security and identity fraud.
"It appears that the Obama administration has sacrificed millions of Americans who are the victims of illegal alien identity theft for purely political purposes," he said. "This is politics at its worst."
Latino community leaders held a news conference Friday to discuss how the policy changes might affect undocumented immigrants in Utah. They said they hope it will end the unnecessary separation of families whose members may be legal and illegal.
Attorney and community activist Mark Alvarez said if a person is not currently in federal immigration court proceedings, the policy has no impact on them.
The government intends to review about 300,000 illegal immigrants slated for deportation on a case-by-case basis. That amounts to less than 3 percent of the nation's undocumented population.
The Salt Lake City immigration court established in 2005 had issued more than 8,200 deportation orders through last year.
"The law has not changed," said Archie Archuleta, chairman of the Utah Coalition of La Raza. "All they have done is said certain people are not to be threatened."
Because of that, Latino community leaders cautioned undocumented workers to beware of unscrupulous attorneys who might use the policy to take people's money with an empty promise of residency or citizenship.
Alvarez said it's not clear how Homeland Security will apply Obama's policy change. But a June memo from ICE director John Morton might provide some indication, he said.
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