Activist guides immigrants to citizenship



Fernando J. Ramirez,

As the presidential race intensifies, so does the issue of illegal immigration, and ordinary Americans like Flor Soto are acting swiftly to help immigrants obtain legal status.

In a classroom behind St. Michael Catholic Church in Livermore, Soto, leader of the Hermanos De Jesus Community Center at the church, holds workshops twice a month designed to offer help and legal advice to those living in the country illegally.

“With the help of church community leaders, groups like this one can get together in a safe environment to discuss issues facing our community and our nation,” Soto said.

In these workshops people receive help gathering the proper paperwork needed to obtain legal status, work visas, petitions for marriage licenses and more. Soto and other volunteers help put people in contact with attorneys that can provide advice and moral support to those that have been tangled up in the legal system.

“Many of these people don’t know, or fear the repercussions, of the steps they need to take to gain their citizenship,” she continued. “What we try to do is get them headed down the path toward becoming legal.”

Originally from the Dominican Republic, Soto went through the immigration system in the early 1990s and saw how tedious the experience could be. She first lived in New York, came to the Bay Area in 2011 and doesn’t speak English. In an effort to help others avoid legal pitfalls, Soto has coordinated these workshops for almost four years and there is never a shortage of people that need her help.

Wishing to remain anonymous one of the workshop attendees going by the name of Ramon isn’t confident that things will ever change.

“I’ve been living here illegally for just under 20 years, and no real progress has been made,” Ramon commented after a recent workshop with Soto. “On the one hand you have Donald Trump threatening to deport all of us, and on the other you have Obama making laws that are not seen as ‘legal’ and in the middle you have people like me still waiting for a real solution. “

While politicians continue to argue these points, people like Esteban Uribe turn to Soto for guidance. Originally from Colombia, Uribe previously worked illegally at a restaurant in San Francisco until Soto helped him obtain a work visa last year. He is now a manager at a parking garage in San Francisco.

“Prior to obtaining a legal way to work, I never used to travel long distances or late at night ‘cause I didn’t want to give cops any reason to look at my status,” explained Uribe. “You don’t really think about these little things until you lose them, and this is one of many reasons I am grateful for Mrs. Soto’s help.”

The number of undocumented people living in the United States has steadily risen every year since 1992

The people seeking Soto’s help are dealing with issues that have continued to grow over time. The number of undocumented people living in the United States has steadily risen every year since 1992, according to the New York Times. The only exceptions are two twelve-month periods that followed the 2001 and 2008 recessions.

The amount of time it takes to become a U.S. citizen has increased over the years, according to the nonprofit research group; the entire process, from obtaining a green card through becoming a citizen, can take as long as twenty-five years.

As recently as 2012, there were approximately 11.3 million undocumented people living in the U.S., according to Slate. Around 20 percent — 2.6 million — live in California, 563,000 of which live in the Bay Area.