The Orange County Register, May 4 2015


When Orange resident Oliver Lopez was a child, his parents made the decision to overstay their visas and remain in the United States. He says that decades later, this decision hindered his pursuit for a career.

Lopez graduated from Cal State Fullerton with a master’s degree in applied mathematics in 2008. But his options were limited due to his legal status.

“I had two fancy college degrees, but no Social Security card and no work permit to pursue anything,” Lopez said.

Lopez applied for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals in 2012, and soon received his long-awaited work permit and Social Security number. He then pursued his lifelong dream of becoming an educator. He is now an adjunct professor of mathematics at Citrus College in Glendora.

Lopez was featured on the “Immigration and Community Engagement” panel at Chapman University’s “Breaking Borders” conference on April 24.

Conference organizers hoped to encourage dialogue among community members about prominent immigration issues. Lopez was joined on the panel by Bishop Kevin Vann of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange and Rusty Kennedy, chief executive of the nonprofit OC Human Relations and executive director of the Orange County Human Relations Commission.

Vann spoke about the Catholic Church’s involvement in assisting immigrant families. He is the chairman of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, which organizes programs that provide accessible legal services to immigrants.

“We need to put human faces on issues because this concerns real people and real lives,” Vann said.

Kennedy, who has worked on immigration issues for more than 40 years, said the current system keeps undocumented immigrants in the country without voice or representation. Kennedy has intervened directly with businesses to resolve cases of immigrant labor abuse. For example, he has encountered instances where immigrants were paid below the minimum wage and denied overtime and health benefits because of their legal status.

“One of the real critical issues … in terms of the immigrant community in Orange County is having a voice. It’s not just having shelter, it’s not having six months of work without status, even if you get wages,” he said. “It’s about living in the place you live, working and doing your labor, receiving the benefits of that labor and having a voice in the community you live in. Isn’t that what the United States is all about in terms of representation?”

Kennedy said he’s well aware of problems undocumented immigrants face but disputed claims that the U.S. immigration system is broken, saying, “It’s doing exactly what many

“Since the time of President Reagan’s economic advisers coming together, we had a pretty clear consensus that the impact of immigration in the United States is unequivocally positive. It builds the economy,” he said “In those states that have the most, their economies are the strongest and most vibrant.”

He said immigration benefits U.S. industries that need workers and also benefits countries like Mexico, where there’s a lack of jobs and the movement of workers to the U.S. eases pressure on the labor market there. Plus, immigrants often send money back to their home countries.

Those who say immigration is broken do so because they know this plays well in the media but are aware immigration serves economic interests domestically and internationally, he said.

“When they say its broken, it’s as if someone else is to blame and is benefiting from it, its disingenuous. It’s doing exactly what many people want it to do,” Kennedy said.

Tita Smith, mayor of Orange and executive director of Catholic Charities, Orange County, spoke about her role as mayor and the role of the church in the city in helping low-income/immigrant populations.

The city, for instance, donated land to Mary’s Kitchen, a volunteer group that provides food and services to the homeless.

“Our call as a church is to give hope to people. What better setting could we talk about than with working with immigrants, where hope is so needed,” she said. “What we have missed in our immigrant struggles is that we’ve stayed in our tents too long. Put us together, and we can do anything.”

Smith closed the event encouraging those in attendance to advocate further in favor of immigrant rights.

“Given the information of today, what’s next for you? Is it time to get more serious? Take on more challenge? Take on more risk for the immigrants?” she asked.

Sidebar – The immigration landscape

There are an estimated 2.5 million undocumented immigrants in California, the largest undocumented population in the country. Some 300,000 of those immigrants live in Orange County. They face uncertainties and fears about whether they will be able to live and work in the United States legally.
Recent efforts to change the nation’s immigration policies became mired in the Republican-controlled Congress, where House leaders have refused to allow a vote on a comprehensive immigration reform bill.
President Barack Obama last November issued executive orders that would allow up to 5 million unauthorized immigrants a three-year legal stay and a work permit, but not citizenship. The centerpiece of that plan focuses on the undocumented parents of U.S.-born children.
At least 26 states sued Obama, saying he had overstepped his authority. A federal judge in February temporarily blocked the president’s plan and a court decision is pending.
Americans disagree over the fate of undocumented immigrants in the United States. Some are in favor of comprehensive immigration reform, giving undocumented immigrants an opportunity to legally live and work in the United States. Others oppose such measures, believing that the government should deport illegal immigrants and increase border security.

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