Illegals face tough task to become legal
EAGLE COUNTY – Significant obstacles make the prospect of becoming a legal worker dim for undocumented immigrants.Rodrigo, whose last name is being withheld at his request, is an undocumented worker who lives in Avon and works in an Eagle County office and sometimes a restaurant. He wants to be legal, he said.”I can’t,” he said. “It’s a bit difficult.”He came to Eagle County two years ago from the city of Cuernavaca in Mexico, but didn’t come with documents “out of necessity” because he wasn’t able to get a visa. Outside of marrying a U.S. citizen, there are few options for illegal workers to become legal, a local immigration attorney said.
“If someone’s here illegally, unless they’re coming under the LIFE (Legal Immigration Family Equity) Act or they’re marrying a U.S. citizen, the only way to get legal is to leave and get a visa,” said Chris Pooley, an immigration attorney in Avon.Juan Martinez of Avon, a leader in the Hispanic community who formerly ran a community group called La Mesa, said he’s never heard of an illegal worker gaining legal status.”It’s almost impossible, I would say,” he said. “I don’t think there are a lot of people who can become legal once they enter illegally. … I’ve heard of people being here seven, eight, nine years and trying to become legal and not being able to.”Under a guest worker program proposed by President Bush last year, undocumented workers who are already in the country would be able to register to stay for three years, after which they could renew. Some immigrants, though, never intend to become legal workers.Jesus, whose last name was withheld at his request, has been here for seven months, living in Edwards. He never intended to seek legal residency, he said. His family is in Guadalajara, Mexico, and he doesn’t like the weather here, anyway.”I work here only to send money to my family,” he said.He’s currently not working because of a recent knee injury.Bush’s guest-worker proposal was left out of a comprehensive immigration bill that was passed by the U.S. House earlier this month, leaving it in limbo for now.
Illegal immigrants either come to Colorado with no documents or fake documents, or they come here legally and then overstay their visas, Pooley said.Because of our proximity to the border, Id say we have more than the national average of people who came in without visas, Pooley said.Obstacles for illegals include three-year and 10-year penalties against re-entering the country, Pooley said. Those penalties are put into effect only if a person leaves the U.S., Pooley said. If an illegal resident leaves the U.S. to visit, for instance, a sick relative, he or she would then be subject to those penalties.If a person is here illegally for more than 180 days, he or she is barred from re-entering the country for three years. If he or she is here illegally for more than three years, he or she is barred from re-entering for 10 years.The LIFE Act allowed immigrants who had an employer or relative file a petition for them before 2000 to get residency even if they entered the country illegally. Immigrants can apply to become permanent citizens through sponsorships from immediately family members, Pooley said.But if theyve ever been here illegally and left the country, the three- and 10-year bars can come into effect, Pooley said.By the time theyve decided they want to become legal, in a lot of cases theyve already accrued 180 days of unlawful presence, he said.Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14623, or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail, Colorado