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Fate of young Chicago immigrants exposes holes in system

People from all over the world come to the United States seeking opportunity and a more secure life for their families. However, if they don't have legal or permanent resident status, the threat of deportation can complicate matters considerably. Many young people in Chicago-area schools would like to take advantage of opportunities to further their education and careers, but not having legal status often prevents this.

A number of Chicago schools have Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program, or JROTC, which prepares high school students for military life. This kind of structure allows many teens to find success. However, many of these students find that they're ready to enlist in the military or enroll in college after graduation, but are limited by their immigration status.

Questions surround prosecutions of immigrants crossing border

Over the last few years, immigration has been a very hot topic on the national stage. This discussion has included the topic of border security, which is something that has impacted many families in the Chicago area. When individuals are caught crossing the border without documentation, they can face criminal charges and be sent back to their native countries, even if they are just looking to be reunited with family in the United States.

Recently, the Center for Investigative Reporting uncovered details about a federal program that has become a concern for many observers. Since 2005, Operation Streamline has been in effect. This is a federal effort to find individuals crossing the border, immediately file criminal charges and prosecute them quickly in an effort to deter similar action.

Diversity visa program may be eliminated with immigration reform

In the 1990s, the federal government devised the diversity visa lottery system that allows immigrants from countries with low immigration quotas a better chance at staying in the United States. Although this program has allowed many individuals and families to become long-term residents of the Chicago area, it may soon be eliminated through legislative action.

Most of the ongoing immigration reform discussion is focused on granting an adjustment of status to highly skilled workers, rather than giving every immigrant equal footing. The lottery system, which allows green cards to be issued with the luck of the draw, isn't included in the reform proposal at this time.

Visas for highly skilled workers fuel immigration reform debate

A vital piece of the current federal immigration reform proposal is allowing highly skilled workers to remain in the United States with a visa. While reform is gaining traction in the halls of Congress, amendments to proposals may impact a number of people living in the Chicago area.

The idea behind granting work visas to highly skilled employees is to have them contribute their talents to the American economy and local communities. As is the case with any major legislative effort, there are competing ideas about how to best address this specific issue. A group of senators recently suggested that the cap for H-1B visas be doubled, raising the current number of visas issued to at least 110,000 annually.

Judge backs counsel for detained immigrants with mental illnesses

Three years ago, the federal government was sued for the way certain immigration detention cases were handled. According to the suit, a number of detainees were being held without hearings after being considered unable to represent themselves in a hearing due to mental illnesses. Although this particular case wasn't handled in Illinois court, the federal ruling could have an impact throughout the country.

Immigration hearings are outside the purview of the U.S. criminal justice system, so individuals who are being detained and awaiting a deportation hearing aren't necessarily guaranteed legal representation. According to the federal judge's ruling, however, those who have been deemed unable to represent themselves when dealing with immigration issues should have a valuable means of protection.

Immigration bill may pave path to residence for guest workers

A group of U.S. senators, popularly known as the "Gang of Eight," recently unveiled a bipartisan immigration reform plan. One feature of this bill gaining some attention may prove to be beneficial for those in the Chicago area who wish to receive permanent resident status, but fear that their low-skilled job may exclude them from that pathway.

If the proposed legislation is signed into law, the "W visa" would be created. This would create a guest-worker program, allowing those who are in jobs that don't require a college degree to remain in the country legally. Additionally, the new visa may provide two routes for immigrants to obtain a green card.

Court: Minor pot offenses no longer cause automatic deportation

As we have previously covered on this blog, federal immigration authorities may use minor criminal charges as a reason to initiate deportation proceedings. Something as seemingly inconsequential as a traffic violation can create serious legal issues for those who reside in Chicago without U.S. citizenship or permanent resident status.

Beyond minor criminal charges, serious criminal charges can actually result in automatic deportation action. Unfortunately, however, differences in state law may improperly define what constitutes a serious crime. This immigration-related legal issue was the subject of a recently decided U.S. Supreme Court case.

Growing numbers of children involved in deportation hearings

Being detained by federal immigration officials and facing a hearing without adequate preparation or support can be an intimidating experience, which is something many in the Chicago area might already know. However, the situation is much more concerning for a growing segment of undocumented immigrants seeking an adjustment of status to avoid deportation: children.

According to reports, the rate of people entering the country without proper legal clearance is at the lowest levels in four decades. Yet, at the same time, the number of children crossing the border without adults -- and being captured by federal officials -- is growing at an alarming rate.

Cook County middle school students take on immigration reform

Although they may not be the first group of Illinois residents considered to provide advice on complex immigration issues, students at a middle school in Wheeling recently created their own immigration reform proposals to local elected officials. These students, many of whom are immigrants themselves, offered personal insights into state and federal lawmakers.

Some of the topics discussed at the meeting with policymakers included the "DREAM Act" and ways to handle immigration in the American Southwest. Specifically, students weighed in on whether or not young people should be granted legal resident status in exchange for military service or pursuing a college education. At times, the students even disagreed with current proposals.

Immigrants' right to counsel in detention remains hot topic

The unsafe conditions in many immigration detention centers have been roundly criticized over the last few months. While we have previously discussed how this issue has affected Illinois, there is one question below the surface of every one of these stories: Should all immigrants being held in a detention center have legal representation?

In criminal cases, every accused individual has the right to an attorney. Even though many deportation hearings are sparked by criminal accusations, those who are detained awaiting a hearing aren't guaranteed representation by an attorney. This raises the concern that undocumented immigrants won't be made aware of their rights.

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