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Immigration crisis impacts local advocacy group and its clients

The journey migrating from Mexico to the U.S. is a long one for many.

Just ask Jose Cruz, of Crest Hill.

It was 1999. At the time, he was earning a living in the carpentry and construction job field when Mexico’s economy took a turn, leading him to leave his native country in search of new opportunities.

Cruz said the nation’s immigration crisis is terrible, seeing “the news, the people, the kids.”

The pathway to citizenship has been a long one, Cruz said.

“When I put in the application, the Spanish Community Center helped me,” he said. “I’m waiting for an interview.”

The story Cruz shared outlines the issue with immigration and its impact on anyone who may want to seek U.S. citizenship.

In recent weeks, immigration has returned to the forefront of the nation’s focus.

The question of how the crisis persists has wound its way to the U.S. mid-term elections.

In the wake of changes in immigration policy and rhetoric, the Southwest Suburban Immigrant Project, like many immigrant advocacy groups, has noted changes among clients served.

“I think there’s a general fear in the immigrant community,” said Jose Vera, of Southwest Suburban Immigrant Project. “They’re being perpetrated by the federal administration. The ever-changing policies and rules that are coming … from Twitter, I think people are generally afraid of seeking help.”

Southwest Suburban Immigrant Project and its citizenship classes typically have a capacity to handle up to 100 students.

“We usually have a waitlist,” Vera said.

Still, the American Dream remains alive for many people who are seeking pathways to citizenship.

“I believe in the American Dream,” Cruz said. “You work hard and pay taxes, you can have your own house, your own car, and your own job. I believe it’s true.”

Cruz admitted that choosing to leave his native country hasn’t always been easy and said he knew he needed to move forward.

“There aren’t good opportunities,” he said. “I had to leave a construction job and go for a warehouse job.”

Romeoville resident Claudia Castro said her understanding of the American Dream has evolved over time.

“It’s not what I originally expected,” she said. “Back then, it was more of a vivid dream. It was getting the house and the family. It’s not there. There’s a lot of hate. Jobs are hard to find. It’s hard to get the American Dream. … I don’t feel it, especially with the president and what’s going on. We hold [the American Dream] up too high. It’s harder to attain. It’s more difficult [to navigate pathways to citizenship,] compared to when my dad tried to. It’s difficult to meet the regulations, and there’s discrimination. It makes it impossible to get there.”

Castro recalled having entered the country at age six.

“I didn’t decide to come by myself,” she said. “My mom wanted better opportunities and a better life.”

Castro said the pathway to citizenship has been a long journey, but she remains optimistic.

“It’s been a long time,” she said. “You must have patience. It’s easier for me because I know English. For others, it’s harder with interviews. My transition was smoother. My uncle did interviews, and it went differently. They were rude to him and denied him the first time. The process is time consuming. I’ve been working on this since forever. [Southwest Suburban Immigrant Project] has been helpful, getting me ready for the interview and walking me through the process step by step.”

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