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  1. #1
    Member gcsanjose's Avatar
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    Jul 2010

    CA-Legal help for immigrants comes to East Contra Costa

    By Paul Burgarino
    Contra Costa Times

    Arturo Sanchez is earning his U.S. citizenship -- the hard way.

    Sanchez, 28, was shot in his left clavicle by his wife's ex-husband while driving to work from his Antioch home on Lone Tree Way early one morning in 2007.

    Years later, the undocumented Mexican immigrant sought the help of a nonprofit organization that provides inexpensive legal assistance to immigrants trying to obtain citizenship. Sanchez became eligible for a U visa because he was the victim of a crime and helped police make an arrest.

    The International Institute of the Bay Area opened its doors in Antioch late last year in hopes of helping the growing number of immigrants, particularly Latinos, settling in the East Bay suburbs. The Antioch location is the first new one since 1974 for the 94-year-old organization, which also has offices in Oakland, San Francisco and Redwood City.

    The surging Latino population in Concord and East Contra Costa County triggered the nonprofit group's expansion, said Sebastian Zavala, a program director with the organization.

    According to the U.S. Census Bureau's recent American Community Survey data, almost 13,000 immigrants are eligible to become citizens in Pittsburg, Antioch, Oakley and Brentwood. About 53,000 people in those four cities were born in another county, according to the data.

    By comparison, Oakland has about 24,800 people eligible to become citizens and 112,102 residents born in another country. However, it has 150,000 more people living in the city than the four East Contra Costa cities combined.

    "The population out here (in East Contra Costa) is definitely underserved," Zavala said.

    Five groups offer discounted legal services for immigrants in Oakland and dozens do so in San Francisco, but there are none in the East Contra Costa region, according to Zavala. Catholic Charities used to have a satellite office in Brentwood, staff attorney Juan Ortiz said.

    Since opening in October, the institute has seen a steady stream of two to three clients each day seeking help to obtain citizenship, Zavala said.

    The majority of the cases involve U visas, he said. Under the program, if a person stays in the country for three consecutive years after obtaining the visa, they can apply for permanent citizenship.

    Sanchez heard about the institute on a Spanish television station, and after learning he could be eligible for citizenship through a U visa, he contacted the group and was put in touch with Ortiz.

    "It was almost too good to be true," said Sanchez, who came to the United States from Mexico in 2004 for work and to support his family. "It's like this old saying 'After bad things, some good things come.' "

    Ortiz and other legal staff have helped Sanchez, a local golf course maintenance worker, gather a certified report from Antioch police about the shooting, his medical report and other pertinent documents.

    The bullet is still lodged in Sanchez's neck area; doctors told him his truck window was likely the only thing that saved him. A counselor is helping him deal with painful flashbacks about the incident, he said.

    The institute is still processing his case, which should take about six to eight months for verification, Ortiz said.

    Sanchez hopes to become a full-time citizen, allowing him to bring his 12-year-old stepson back to the United States from Mexico.

    "It's a good way to reunite our family. His mother is waiting for him," he said.

    Other cases handled by the agency thus far include permanent residents petitioning for their immigrant spouses and other family issues. The firm also handles naturalization cases and visa applications for battered women and for children.

    It does not handle asylum or deportation cases but refers people to attorneys who can.

    Like many immigrants, Jose Carlos of Brentwood was unaware of the discounted services from groups such as International Institute that could help him.

    "There are a lot of people in this area that just don't have the knowledge or money to get this kind of help," said Carlos, 37.

    Carlos plans to earn his U.S. citizenship next month. The construction foreman came to the United States in 1990 at age 15 from Mexico for better opportunities.

    Carlos obtained a green card when marrying his now ex-wife in 2003. Rather than renew the card next year, he wants to enjoy the complete privileges of citizenship such as being able to vote.

    "It makes you feel like a good citizen," Carlos said.

    Much of the group's attention to the region stems from programs in Oakley to embrace immigrants, Zavala said. Oakland-based nonprofit organization La Clinica opened up a storefront facility for residents with little or no insurance to receive basic medical care.

    Oakley also launched a program last year that makes immigrants feel more welcome in the city and willing to participate in civic events.

    The legal group was looking to locate in Oakley initially but couldn't find space, Zavala said. Opting to set up shop in Antioch is beneficial because it is in a more central location for the clients it hopes to serve, and the offices on Lone Tree Way are not far from a planned BART station, he said.

    "Hopefully, we can look back 90 years from now and say we're still in Antioch," Zavala said.

    Legal help for immigrants comes to East Contra Costa - San Jose Mercury News

  2. #2
    Senior Member ReggieMay's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Sounds like quite a scam. "You shoot me and I'll shoot you and we'll qualify for citizenship. AND Americans will pay to treat our gunshot wounds."
    "A Nation of sheep will beget a government of Wolves" -Edward R. Murrow

    Join our efforts to Secure America's Borders and End Illegal Immigration by Joining ALIPAC's E-Mail Alerts network (CLICK HERE)

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