'People here are very scared': local lawyer helps immigrants

PASCO, Wash. (KVEW-TV) – Isela Mendoza has been in the United States since she was two years old.

“A lot of people here are very scared about what's going to happen because of what they are watching in the news,” she said. “But sometimes, the media says stuff to scare people.”

Mendoza is a legal resident in Pasco. She wants to apply for full citizenship, but fears problems for her husband who is undocumented, living here since he was 16.

“We have three children, so that means I would have to take care of them by myself,” she said. “It would be very difficult.”

According to immigration attorney Eamonn Roach in Pasco, these fears are common among the local Latino community.

“They say, hey, we've been living here how long and do the work Americans won't do?” he said. “Why am I getting kicked out now?”

Roach volunteers hours of his time presenting information to predominately Latino groups.

On Sunday, he broke down what immigration laws mean at Saint Patrick’s Catholic Parish in Pasco.

“This is local, this is the people that need help,” he said.

According to a 2012 Pew Research Center study, about 230,000 unauthorized immigrants live in Washington State.

President Donald Trump has been insistent on stricter immigration reform. Despite several courts overturning his executive order, he is expected to power ahead with more policies.

“We're actually taking people that are criminals...and we're getting them out, and that's what I said I'd do," the president said in a press conference Monday.

In Eastern Washington, this raises the question: who’s next?

Roach explained former President Barack Obama was also big on deportation.

“He was deporting 400,000 people a year,” Roach said. “So Trump wants to ramp that up even more.”

The big difference, Roach explained, lies in priorities of deportation. Under the Obama Administration, priorities were broken down into three categories: 1) Serious criminals or those previously deported; 2) Those Convicted of domestic violence or DUI; then finally 3) Those living the U.S. undocumented.

However, under the Trump Administration, rules are expected to be tighter. Any crime or offense could eventually bring someone to the top of that list.

“Everybody is now priority: men, women, children…if they have any criminal issue,” Roach explained. “A criminal issue being: crossing the border illegally, working illegally.”

“And we've been working here our whole lives,” Mendoza said. “[But Roach] was just saying that we should wait to see what's going to happen and not panic.”

Forums like the one at St. Patrick’s help the immigrant community feel more at ease until rules become more concrete, Mendoza said.

The substitute special education teacher with the Pasco School District is now pursuing her master’s degree.

She said she hopes others who are critical of immigrants consider the difficult position their families often take in society.

“They say we should just apply to be legal, but they don't understand that it's not easy, and sometimes it takes a lot of money a lot of time,” she said. “We just want to be here and just want to work.”

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Roach will present similar information for the Dreamer Club at WSU Tri-Cities at 12 p.m. Wednesday, and at 5:30 p.m. at New Horizons High School on Thursday.