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Immigration Changes Get Mention at Citizenship Workshop

Photo by KUT News

Austin residents looking to become U. S. citizens got some help Saturday navigating the system. Immigrant Services Network of Austin, a coalition of immigrant service organizations, hosted a free workshop.

To become a U.S. citizen, you need to be current in all your taxes and child support payments. You must know how to read, write, and speak English. You must have a clean criminal record.  You should have been lawfully admitted to the U.S. as a resident and register for the draft if it applies to you. Austin immigration attorney Thomas Esparza says those are just the basics. There are many exceptions that can work for and against you. Esparza was one of the lawyers offering legal advice at the workshop.

“It’s hard for folks to understand all the ramifications of an action like shoplifting or overstaying a non-immigrant VISA,” Esparza said. “It’s very difficult to understand for a lay person how all of that ties together and turns into a green card or citizenship. ”

A new immigration law passed in Alabama would give law enforcement officers the authority to check people’s immigration status during routine traffic stops if “reasonable suspicion” exists. It’s being called one of the toughest immigration laws in the county. An appeals court in Atlanta has blocked parts of the law including one provision that would make it an Alabama state crime if an immigrant did not carry his or her immigration documents.

The Obama Administration announced in August that it would begin a case-by-case review of 300,000 pending deportations cases with an eye for high-priority persons such as convicted felons.

“As they go through that slowly, they are looking for cases where that they can administratively close them so that they will not harm a family,” Esparza said. “Where perhaps a 19-year old is in removal proceedings because he was put in jail for a traffic ticket. ”

The Administration said it was a way to cut back on the back log of deportations although critics called it a way for the government to grant amnesty to illegal immigrants.

In Texas, the state is working on deporting thousands of prisoners as way to save the state jail system money. The Austin-American Statesman reported in August that the new state law would deport violent and non-violent prisoners if their home countries would accept them.

Federal officials noted that some countries, including Cuba and Vietnam, will not take back their citizens. Those felons will have to remain in Texas, state officials said. Bryan Collier, deputy executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice that runs the prison system, said about 11,500 of Texas' 156,000 state prisoners are not U.S. citizens — and about 6,000 of those currently have a deportation order pending against them.

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