ATLANTA -- A reporter for Georgia's largest Spanish-language newspaper who frequently writes about immigration issues has recently found himself caught up in his own immigration drama.
When an immigration judge last month denied Mario Guevara's application for asylum and ordered him and his family to leave the country within 60 days, his world was turned upside down. Guevara said he left El Salvador in 2004 after he was beaten and repeatedly harassed by leftist groups because of his work as a political reporter for La Prensa Grafica, a conservative newspaper with close ties to the political party that was in power at the time, according to documents filed in an Atlanta immigration court.
Immigration authorities have spoken to Guevara and his lawyer to try to resolve the situation, but for the last few weeks Guevara has felt much like the people he so often writes about.
"I wrote a lot of stories about immigration. I feel like I'm one of my sources," he said Thursday. "I'm one more victim of the immigration system."
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has decided Guevara is a candidate for prosecutorial discretion, and the agency is working with him to close his case, an ICE spokesman said Thursday. That would mean they wouldn't pursue deportation, and it's a step in the right direction, said his lawyer Byron Kirkpatrick.
But being allowed to stay doesn't do him any good unless the federal government also grants Guevara authorization to work legally, Kirkpatrick said. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency in charge of work authorization, said it cannot comment on individual cases because of the federal Privacy Act.
Kirkpatrick said he still plans to go forward with an appeal of the immigration court judge's ruling on the asylum request.
Guevara sent his pregnant wife and young daughter to Georgia in January 2004, joined them here a few months later on a tourist visa and later applied for asylum. He had to flee his home country, he said, because leftist groups harassed him. He said they implied that he worked for the party-controlled police, demanded that he stop doing journalism and threatened to harm him and his family if he didn't, the court documents say.
Asylum applicants are required to submit their requests within a year of arriving in the U.S. Guevara filed his asylum application in September 2005, about 18 months after his arrival, according to court documents. But U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has said it has no record of that filing and only has record of a second filing of the application in April 2007, court documents say. In a 2008 letter, the agency says it is referring his case to an immigration judge because it found that Guevara had demonstrated "extraordinary circumstances directly related to (the) delay in filing."
Part of the reason Guevara filed his asylum application six months late is because he was suffering from what was later diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder caused by the harassment he suffered combined with the cultural and economic shock of uprooting his family and fleeing to the U.S., the court filing says.
Guevara has two young sons who were born here and are U.S. citizens. His mother and brother, a veteran who fought in Afghanistan, are also citizens.
Kirkpatrick said the immigration judge who denied the asylum plea reasoned that Guevara didn't suffer past persecution; didn't demonstrate that police in El Salvador are unable or unwilling to protect him; doesn't have a well-founded fear of future persecution; and didn't file his application in a timely manner and failed to establish extraordinary circumstances causing the delay.
The Template: California Proposition 187 (1994)
California's Proposition 187 was submitted to the voters with the full support of then Republican governor Pete Wilson. It essentially blamed undocumented immigrants for the poor performance of the state economy in the early 1990s. The law called for cutting off benefits to undocumented immigrants: prohibiting their access to health care, public education, and other social services in California. It also required state authorities to report anyone who they suspected was undocumented. <strong>Status:</strong> The law passed with the support of 55 percent of the voters in 1994 but declared unconstitutional 1997. The law was killed in 1999 when a new governor, Democrat Gray Davis, refused to appeal a judicial decision that struck down most of the law. Even though short-lived, the legislation paved the way for harsher immigration laws to come. On the other hand, the strong reaction from the Hispanic community and immigration advocates propelled a drive for naturalization of legal residents and created as many as one million new voters.
The Worst: Arizona SB 1070
The Arizona Act made it a misdemeanor for an undocumented immigrant to be within the state lines of Arizona without legal documents allowing their presence in the U.S. The law was widely criticized as xenophobic and for encouraging racial profiling. It required state authorities to inquire about an individual's immigration status during an arrest when there was "reasonable suspicion" that the individual was undocumented. The law would allow police to detain anyone who they believed was in the country illegally. <strong>Status:</strong> The law was signed into law by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer on April 23, 2010, immediately generating a swirl of controversy and questions about its constitutionality. In July 2010 and February 2012, federal judges blocked different provisions of SB 1070, setting the stage for the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/25/sb1070-ruling-supreme-court_n_1614119.html" target="_hplink">the Supreme Court decision of June 25, 2012</a> which struck down multiple provisions but upheld the controversial "papers please" provision, a centerpiece of the law which critics say will lead to racial profiling
Following Arizona's Footsteps: Georgia HB 87
The controversy over Arizona's immigration law was followed by heated debate over Georgia's own law. HB 87 required government agencies and private companies to check the immigration status of applicants. This law also limited some government benefits to people who could prove their legal status. <strong>Status:</strong> Although a federal judge temporarily blocked parts of the law considered too extreme, it went into effect on July 1st. 2011. House: 113-56 Senate: 39-17
Verifying Authorized Workers: Pennsylvania HB 1502
This bill, which was approved in 2010, bans contractors and subcontractors employ undocumented workers from having state construction contracts. The bill also protects employees who report construction sites that hire illegal workers. To ensure that contractors hire legal workers, the law requires employers to use the identification verification system E-verify, based on a compilation of legally issued Social Security numbers. <strong>Status:</strong> Approved on June 8th 2010. House: 188-6 (07/08/2010) <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/donkeyhotey/" target="_hplink">Flickr photo by DonkeyHotey</a>
A Spin Off of Arizona: Utah HB 497
Many states tried to emulate Arizona's SB 1070 law. However, most state legislatures voted against the proposals. Utah's legislature managed to approve an immigration law based on a different argument. Taking into consideration the criticism of racial profiling in Arizona, Utah required ID cards for "guest workers" and their families. In order to get such a card workers must pay a fee and have clean records. The fees go up to $2,500 for immigrants who entered the country illegally and $1,000 for immigrants who entered the country legally but were not complying with federal immigration law, <a href="http://articles.latimes.com/2011/mar/06/nation/la-na-illegal-immigration-20110306" target="_hplink">according to the LA Times.</a> <strong>Status: </strong> Law went into effect on 03/15/2011 House: 59-15 (03/04/2011) Senate: 22-5 (03/04/2011)
The Most Comprehensive: Florida HB-1C
Florida's immigration law prohibits any restrictions on the enforcement of federal immigration law. It makes it unlawful for undocumented immigrants within the state to apply for work or work as an independent contractor. It forbids employers from hiring immigrants if they are aware of their illegal status and requires work applicants to go through the E-verify system in order to check their Social Security number. <strong>Status: </strong>effective since October 1st, 2010
The Hot Seat: Alabama HB 56
The new immigration law in Alabama is considered the toughest in the land, even harder than Arizona's SB 1070. It prohibits law enforcement officers from releasing an arrested person before his or her immigration status is determined. It does not allow undocumented immigrants to receive any state benefit, and prohibits them from enrolling in public colleges, applying for work or soliciting work in a public space. The law also prohibits landlords from renting property to undocumented immigrants, and employers from hiring them. It requires residents to prove they are citizens before they become eligible to vote. The law asked every school in the state to submit an annual report with the number of presumed undocumented students, but this part, along with others, were suspended by federal courts. <strong>Status:</strong> Approved June 2nd, 2011 House: 73-28 (04/05/2011) Senate: 23-11 (05/05/2011) <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/longislandwins/" target="_hplink">Flickr photo by longislandwins</a>