Three stories: Patriotism, fear, and fraud

UPDATED 5/22/2014 – A patriotic criminal, a fearful daughter, and a fraud preying on fear: three stories show three views of just how crazy our immigration system is.

The patriotic criminal

Mario Hernandez is the patriotic criminal, whose story appeared in the New York Times on May 12. Hernandez served in the U.S. Army for three years back in the 1970s. He worked in two state government agencies, and two federal agencies, including the Justice Department. He has been a model citizen, voting in elections, serving his country, paying his taxes.

Hernandez discovered that he’s not a citizen only after retirement, when he needed a passport to go on a Caribbean cruise. He has lived in the United States since coming here as a Cuban refugee, with his parents, at age 11. According to the New York Times:

“’I thought I was a citizen — I’ve always been proud of being a citizen,’ said Mr. Hernandez, 58, the father of two grown children, one an engineer who is an Afghan war veteran. ‘This has really messed with my head.’”

Now he could now face prison and fines for voting while not a citizen.

UPDATE 5/22/2014Mario Hernandez is now a citizen! The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service apologized for errors in handling his case and …

At a field office in Jacksonville, Fla., Mr. Hernandez, 58, with his wife and lawyer present, clutched his naturalization document after being sworn in as an American.

“I feel like jumping and hollering,” he said. “I was given an opportunity almost 50 years ago, and today I have almost the same feeling. I feel vindicated.”

The fearful daughter

In Philadelphia, Sara Navarro is relieved that she has temporary status under DACA — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — but fearful for her four older siblings, who could still be deported. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports:

“The siblings, parents, grandchildren, and spouses represent a pastiche of at least five immigration statuses, ranging from citizenship to temporary protected status, undocumented-and-under-the-radar, and direct violation of standing deportation orders.”

Her older siblings, even those married to U.S. citizens, are not eligible to remain in the country. Sara is safe, for the moment, only because of DACA, a complicated and temporary status available for people who entered the United States as children, were under the age of 31 on June 15, 2012, and meet a number of other criteria.

According to the Pew Research Center, an estimated nine million people living in “mixed status” families share Sara’s fears.

Fraud preying on fear

The complexity of the U.S. immigration system makes it possible for dishonest and dishonorable people to prey on immigrants. Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson filed suit against Ornella Hammerschmidt this week, charging:

“Defendants charged impoverished immigrants thousands of dollars in fees for immigration legal services they were not legally authorized to provide, took money from clients for services that were not provided or that were delayed for lengthy period of times, and prepared immigration paperwork with errors or falsified signatures or information of the clients. Defendants’ practices caused financial harm to clients and in some cases unnecessarily delayed clients’ immigration matters or potentially subjected clients to immigration violations.”

The 31-page legal document describes the money charged for services never performed, the lies told to immigrants who were desperate for help to get legal status, and the sometimes-irreparable damage to people’s lives.

“Immigration rules and proceedings are complex and technical. Incorrect or false information on a form, or missing a hearing or deadline, can be the difference between an individual’s eligibility to stay in the United States and deportation.”

Mario Hernandez, Sara Navarro, Ornella Hammerschmidt — the stories continue. And in Washington, House Republicans continue to block comprehensive immigration reform.

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