Original URL: http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/news/articles/0814immigrant14.html

Sen. Hatch aims to help migrant kids
The Arizona Republic Republic Nogales Bureau
Aug. 14, 2003
Daniel González
 12:00 AM

Experts estimate hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants have no way of legalizing their immigration status even though they came to the United
States as children.

Their situation was underscored this week after a federal appeals court ruled that a 24-year-old Guatemala man is ineligible to adjust his legal status and must be deported even though he has lived in the United States since his mother smuggled him into the country when he was less than 1 year old.

The case of Jose Didiel Muñoz resembles the plight of four Phoenix students also facing deportation despite having lived in the United States since they were children.

But now they have reason to hope.

U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, recently reintroduced legislation intended to help undocumented immigrant students gain lawful status in the United States.

The so-called DREAM Act would allow undocumented immigrants to remain in the United States legally on condition they complete two years of military service, two years of college or 910 hours of community service within six years of high school graduation. Undocumented immigrants who meet those requirements then could apply for permanent legal residency.

Criticism for plan

Critics warn that such a measure would lead to a broader amnesty program for such immigrants. Similar legislation in the past has failed to gain enough support.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided Friday that Muñoz is ineligible to adjust his legal status and must be deported.

Muñoz, who lives in Los Angeles, speaks English, graduated from high school in the United States and never has returned to his birth country, according to court documents.

Two University of Arizona law school students took his case under the supervision of Assistant Dean Willie Jordan Curtis of the College of Law.

Muñoz's legal case is completed as far as the government is concerned, said Greg Gagne, spokesman for the Executive Office for Immigration Review.

Muñoz has a removal order hanging over his head, but Virgina Kice, a Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman, could not say Wednesday whether he had been deported.

Muñoz could not be reached by telephone for comment.

Melissa Lazarin, education policy analyst for the National Council of La Raza, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy organization, estimated there are hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children, although the actual number is impossible to know.

"It's not uncommon," Lazarin said. "These are people who were brought here by their parents, went to school here, speak English and consider this their country and essentially aren't able to demonstrate that."

Andrea Black, executive director of the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project, agreed.

Draconian law

Since then-President Clinton signed into law the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, options for undocumented immigrants seeking legal status have been "drastically reduced," Black said.

"This is just one example of the very draconian effects of our immigration laws," Black said of the Muñoz case. "We see these kinds of terrible results from the laws all the time. . . . People are torn from their families. These laws result in a lot of inequity."

Similar stories are especially common in Arizona, where illegal immigration has surged in recent years, said Emilia Bañuelos, a Phoenix immigration attorney

"This is a typical case. I see this every single day," Bañuelos said.

Last summer, four Wilson Charter High School students caught the attention of immigration officials at the U.S.-Canadian border while on a school field trip to participate in a solar-powered boat competition in upstate New York.

Two of the students now are in college and the other two will begin college in the fall.Last September, a U.S. immigration judge in Phoenix granted the four students until Nov. 28, 2003, to prepare their case, essentially giving them a shot at gaining lawful residency through pending legislation in Congress.

DREAM Act criteria

Hatch said he is confident the DREAM Act will pass. The bill, the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, would grant legal residency to undocumented immigrants who graduated from high school or were accepted at a college or university. Applicants also would have to prove they had lived in the United States at least five years and had entered the country before they were 16.

"While I do not advocate granting unchecked amnesty to illegal immigrants, I am in favor of providing children - children who did not make the decision to enter the United States illegally - the opportunity to earn the privilege of remaining here legally," Hatch said in introducing his measure July 31 on the Senate floor.

The bill also would repeal a federal law that bars states from charging in-state tuition rates for undocumented immigrants, bringing down the cost of attending college for scores of such immigrants.

About 50,000 undocumented immigrants graduate each year from U.S. high schools.

In Arizona, education officials estimate half of the 150,000 students classified as English learners are undocumented immigrants.

Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, is taking up a similar fight in the House. His bill, the Student Adjustment Act, differs from the DREAM Act by allowing only undocumented immigrants under age 21 to become legal residents. The DREAM Act sets no age limits. Cannon's bill, introduced in April, has 66 co-sponsors, including three Arizona lawmakers: Reps. Raul Grijalva and Ed Pastor, both Democrats, and Rep. Rick Renzi, a Republican.

David Ray, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said the DREAM Act is "the opening salvo in a larger amnesty debate that is going to sour the stomachs of most of the American public."

He predicted the act will serve as a catalyst for a broader legalization movement including, by his organization's estimate, up to 11 million undocumented immigrants.

"The DREAM Act is a sneaky way to open the amnesty floodgates by targeting the most sympathetic group (of undocumented immigrants) with the intent of applying it to everyone in the country illegally soon after," he said.

Reach the reporter at daniel.gonzalez@arizonarepublic.com or (602) 444-8312.

Gannett News Service reporter Sergio Bustos contributed to this article.