Messy lives make immigration debate a messy business

Published: Monday, April 22 2013 7:06 p.m. MDT

Salt Lake Dream Team member Raymi Gutierrez stood at Sandoval's side, fighting tears as she explained she was willing to stand up for a woman guilty of bad decisions.

"She's a human being, and she makes mistakes," Gutierrez said. "I understand that people are looking to what's fair, according to law, but in my eyes the law is unjust ... look at the human issue in this, the human issue of immigration. It's lives that are at stake."

Supporters lobbying for a stay of deportation on Guzman's behalf saw a glimpse of hope when she wasn't deported the next day, petitioning Utah congressmen and senators to write letters supporting her case. But the days passed, media attention shifted, and a week later Guzman was gone, returning to the country she hadn't seen since she was 6 years old.

Imperfect people

Dream Team members have lobbied on behalf of several equally imperfect candidates in the hope of keeping their families together, and say they will continue to do so.

"We feel the pain" of families torn apart by a "broken immigration system," Gutierrez said.

For those who have run afoul of the U.S. criminal justice system, there is likely no hope of citizenship or legal residency and no option of rehabilitation or restitution, no matter what reforms pass, Alvarez said. In the future, he hopes to see that change.

"People with some criminal record, I think, with the legalization program, should be given an opportunity to present their case as to why they should be able to stay here," Alvarez said.

Through years of defending and supporting immigration cases, Alvarez has examined the few but complex routes to residency or citizenship.

"Immigration law, it's sometimes talked about, is the second-most complex area of law, behind tax law," he said.

Alvarez supports a simpler system, with lower fees for those seeking legal status and less bureaucracy hindering their application. Streamlining the process would also reduce the often overwhelming legal costs standing between immigrants and a chance to live in the country legally.

Alvarez isn't currently representing clients, campaigning instead in immigration events and offering advice for free in small meetings, seeking to educate the community.

Because most people in the country illegally currently have no recourse to pursue legal status, Alvarez's advice, for now, is simply to wait and see whether a measure of comprehensive immigration reform survives Congress.

The reforms under debate Monday come from a bipartisan bill revealed last week by eight senators, including prominent Republicans John McCain, R-Arizona, and Marco Rubio, R-Florida, alongside Democrats Chuck Schumer, D-New York, and Dick Durbin, D-Illinois.

Both parties are passing the bill back and forth, trying to cut and shape it to their liking while they have the chance. Caught in the middle is the country's considerable undocumented population.

The majority currently face a minimum three to 10 years outside the country should they leave to apply for a visa. Others have black marks on their record from previous years, disqualifying them from current, and likely future, paths to residency or citizenship.

The original bill emphasized strengthening the border, making it more difficult to cross illegally, and simplifying the immigration process. Once the border is sufficiently secure, those already in the country would have a pathway to citizenship requiring they pay a fine, prove employment and pay applicable taxes.

Those in the country illegally will be required to move to the "back of the line" behind those already in the application process, and won't be eligible for legal status for 10 years.

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll published last week reveals just over half the country, an estimated 54 percent, believe immigration adds to the nation's character. As much as 2/3 of Americans, including eight-out-of-10 Latinos, said they support a pathway to citizenship for those in the country illegally.

The poll also revealed an uptick in Republican support for immigration reform, when the proposal includes fines or penalties.

Email: mromero@deseretnews.com

Twitter: McKenzieRomero

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