Leopoldo Arevalo rides the bus from his Ogden home to Salt Lake City every day to work as a roofer. Twice a week on the return trip home, often exhausted, he gets off the bus in Clearfield so he can be a U.S. citizen one day soon.
Arevalo, like almost 1,600 other men and women in the state, studies English and American history in special classes each week. Once an illegal alien from Mexico, he is now earning the right to carry a permanent resident card and become a U.S. citizen under the amnesty program enacted by Congress in 1986."I feel great about the program. I like it. It gives us a lot of chances," said Arevalo in broken English - something he hopes a class offered through the Davis School District will improve.
To get a permanent residency card, Arevalo must complete 40 hours of instruction at the classes offered every Tuesday and Wednesday at North Davis Junior High School. Another 19 school districts and four community-based groups are certified to offer similar classes throughout the state, said Brent Gubler, adult education specialist with the State Office of Education. The office coordinates the education program in the state.
Milt Shaum, Davis coordinator for the program, and Cherie Huber, an instructor, say that the program builds a lot of pride and accomplishment among students.
"They mentally support each other. Everybody wants everybody else to make it through the interview (with immigration officials)," Shaum said.
After completing the classes, participants receive a letter they must present to Immigration and Naturalization Service officials to obtain a permanent resident card. Applicants can also take an oral citizenship test at the time they apply or wait five years when they are eligible for citizenship.
Some 213 of the approximately 3,000 who received temporary residency in Utah under the amnesty program have already been given permanent residency cards. Another 430 have applied since the education program started in October, said Allan Speirs, chief legalization officer with the Salt Lake INS office.
"Those who filed under the Immigration and Control Act are not going to be left out in the cold. We have so many ways to allow them residency," Speirs said. "I am quite comfortable with what is happening. We are well on target. We a very pleased with number of courses and our association with the State Office of Education."
People who qualify for the amnesty program had to prove they were illegal residents before Jan. 1, 1982 and had to apply between May 6, 1987 and May 6, 1988. The program does not involve aliens who applied for residency under the special agricultural worker provision of the law.
Applicants are given a 30-month window to receive instruction and apply for permanent residency. They must also have had temporary resident status for at least 18 months before they can apply for permanent residency. If they fail to apply within 30 months, they become illegal again and can be deported, Speirs said.
Students can opt not to take the classes and simply take the INS test, but most like Lucy M. Sanchez, a student in the Davis program, benefit from the skills taught.
"I like to live in this country. I know I have to have English," said Sanchez, who operates her own clothing and gift shop in Clearfield.
Exemptions from the test are given to those under 16, over age 65, those age 50 or older with 20 years residency, those physically unable, those with a high school diploma or GED degree (with English proficiency) and those who attended a year at a U.S. high school and had at least 40 hours of English and U.S. history, Speirs said.
For more information about the education program write or visit the INS office at 230 W. Fourth South, Room 214, Salt Lake City, UT 84101 or contact the local school district to see if they offer a program.