Spreading the word on immigration reform

The first question Jose Jimenez asked students at Grand Valley State University on Thursday was, “What do you know about immigration reform?” He was met with silence.

Jimenez, a legal intern at a law office in Grand Rapids, came to speak as part of the Phi Iota Alpha fraternity’s month of cultural diversity at GVSU. He explained the current status of immigration reform and illegal immigration in the U.S., specifically focusing on the current and proposed laws.

He said a recent immigration bill has passed the U.S. Senate but is stuck in the House of Representatives. This bill, which is split into three parts, would first add $46.3 billion to the border enforcement budget, and the money would go toward hiring and training new guards, building more fences and implementing new security measures.

Jimenez said the second part of the proposed bill is called the Registered Provision on Immigration Status and would give immigrants a status in between citizen and illegal while they wait for an immigrant visa to remain in the U.S. He said the guidelines include approving applicants if they came to the U.S. on or before Dec. 31, 2011, but restricting applicants if they have committed a felony.

“When it starts getting complicated is with more serious offenses,” Jimenez said. “Attorneys have to figure it out, themselves.”

The final part of the bill will reform the current Deferred Action Plan, which restricts those who are older than 31 from becoming a resident, even if they were in the country at a young age. The proposed bill would take away the age cap by allowing immigrants to qualify for residency if they were here before they turned 16 and can prove they are working toward a GED certificate or other degree. Jimenez said this will benefit students because many currently cannot get financial aid.

“There’s also no penalty to institutions, such as Grand Valley, to offer these students in-state tuition,” he said. “They will also qualify for federal subsidized loans, which is great because interest rates are a lot more if you were to get private loans.”

Congress is also debating another law — the Enforce Act, which includes “Parole in Place.” Jimenez said this will allow families of those who have served or are currently serving in the military and are American citizens not to be deported. He added that it would allow them to try to change their immigration status “as if they had entered the country legally.”

In addition, a new program will help unaccompanied minors who try to cross the border, Jimenez said. He explained that this law allows kids to stay in the U.S. if they have a relative who is already living here at the time they cross the border.

Immigration reform is very important to Jimenez, who said there are many ways people can help spread the word about the current problems.

“The biggest thing you can do if you would like to get involved is to look for organization,” he said. “Immigration affects everyone, not just Latinos. Something needs to be done.”

For more information about immigration reform, visit www.americasvoice.org.