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Frank Gray

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New immigrant deal not major issue here

Starting Tuesday, a whole class of illegal immigrants got the chance to start filing paperwork that would not make them legal residents but would shield them from deportation in most cases and give them the chance to find jobs in the U.S.

The program, called the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, is designed for people who came to the U.S. illegally as children, younger than 16. Such illegal immigrants – who are 30 or younger; have been in the country at least five years; are currently in school or have graduated from high school or served in the military; and who haven’t been convicted of felonies or serious misdemeanors – can become immune to deportation for two years, maybe even longer.

The program isn’t popular with everyone. It has been called a veiled amnesty program.

So I wondered whether there will be a rush of illegal aliens here trying to take advantage of the program.

I spoke with Herb Hernandez, executive director of United Hispanic Americans, an organization that has been operating in Fort Wayne for decades now.

Yes, Hernandez said, he has gotten some calls from people wanting to know about the program – what it means, who’s eligible and how they can qualify – but not a flood of interest.

Details of the program have only started to come out, he said, so his organization isn’t talking about it much.

“It’s human nature,” Hernandez said. “You tell someone something and they repeat it and get it wrong.”

So United Hispanic Americans is waiting to learn all the ins and outs of the program. It will hold a meeting Sept. 26 at the Walb Memorial Union on the IPFW campus, offering information for immigrants who think they might qualify.

Hernandez said they are also trying to find an attorney who specializes in these issues to take part.

Some news reports have quoted government officials who claim a million or more people might apply for the program.

For his part, Hernandez doesn’t expect a big rush. The reality, he said, is that there aren’t that many illegal immigrants in Fort Wayne or even Indiana.

Sure, there are plenty of Hispanics in Fort Wayne, but many of them came from Texas, and many, like his family, have been in the city for several generations.

Hernandez says that Indiana has about 6 million people, and 300,000 are of Hispanic or Latino descent. Statewide, he said, there are only about 50,000 undocumented immigrants, or less than 1 percent of the population.

Half of those illegal immigrants are from Eastern Europe, India, Asia and Africa. The other half, about 25,000 people – or less than one-half of 1 percent of the population – are Hispanic, Hernandez said. Extrapolate that out, he said, and Fort Wayne, with a population of 250,000, has perhaps 1,000 illegal immigrants.

Of those, it isn’t clear how many came here as children and would qualify for the program. From the way Hernandez tells it, though, there won’t be that many in Allen County.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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