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'Becoming an American:' Wayne County group to host dialogue on 'broken' immigration system

By Bryce Buyakie, The Daily Record,


ORRVILLE − Haroldo Nunes and his family have called the U.S. home for nearly two decades.

When he left Brazil in 2000, his circumstances were more fortunate than most entering the American immigration system.

With family in Northwest Ohio, some fluency in English and a friendly attorney, he obtained a green card in a decade and citizenship five years later in 2016.

For others, the circumstances are much different, he said. Many can't speak English, the immigration process can be confusing and it can cost sometimes thousands of dollars to apply for citizenship for multiple people and obtain an attorney.

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For those who don't understand the system and its complexities, the path to citizenship can be difficult to navigate, Nunes said.

This week, the League of Women Voters of Wayne County is hosting "Becoming an American." The informational talk meant to help people learn more about the U.S. immigration system, will feature Nunes and immigration attorney Brian Hoffman, who know the system from professional and personal experiences.

The free event is 7 p.m. on Thursday, March 16, at First Presbyterian Church, 621 College Ave., Wooster.

'The US immigration system is broken.'

Nunes, 53 as of Friday, is the executive director of Open Arms Hispanic Ministries in Orrville . He believes the U.S. immigration system is in need of reform.

He said not enough has changed since the last major immigration law was passed nearly 46 years ago in 1986, under then-President Ronald Reagan.

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"The U.S. immigration system is broken," said Nunes.

At Open Arms, he works with the Hispanic and migrant communities in Wayne County. Among his top concerns is helping immigrants navigate the difficulties of being noncitizens in the U.S.

The long wait for visas, green cards and citizenship is a major problem he sees in the community.

The U.S. Department of State Visa Bulletin for March 2023 lists these wait times for visa applicants.

Applicants are split into family-sponsored preferences and employment-based preferences. Family-sponsored individuals are split into different categories depending on who is sponsoring the visa, Nunes explained.

The most recent family-sponsored applicants who can continue the process to obtain a visa in March, first applied in September 2015, according to the bulletin.

An applicant from Mexico with married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens who applied in November of 1997 can now continue the process, 26 years later.

"That's a lifetime for some people," Nune said. "So much can change in that time."

The turnaround time for employment-based visas is quicker — one to eight years.

The U.S. doles out a limited number of visas depending on the class of worker or family sponsorship. This limit results in a backlog of "excessive" demand, the document explains.

Little on-the-ground aid for immigrants

At Open Arms, Nunes helps immigrants by offering English language and driving lessons while also being there to translate during legal and medical appointments.

Like the immigration system, the justice and medical systems can be intimidating, especially for those whose primary language is not English, he said.

"I helped drive a woman and her 7-year-old daughter with cerebral palsy to Akron because they didn't have a ride, and they needed a translator," Nunes said.

Open Arms also provides tutoring programs, community support and local housing and employment aid through its regional partners.

While Nunes' Open Arms fills in many service gaps for families, it isn't always enough. His team of three — two part-timers and himself — is stretched thin.

"We work with some places in Wooster, which helps, but more needs to be done," he said.

League of Women voters hosts Becoming an American conversation

For Brenda Linnick of the nonpartisan League of Women Voters, immigration is not a political issue, it's a social and economic issue involving human beings.

"We have a large immigrant population here, and they may not be as visible as on the border, but they are here," she said.

In Ohio there are 584,839 foreign born residents in 2021, or 5% of the total Ohio population. Of that number, 89,000 are "unauthorized" noncitizens, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

There are nearly 2,300 noncitizens or foreign-born residents in Wayne County, according to the 2021 U.S. Census population estimates. That's roughly 2% of the 116,710 people who live in the county.

Her goal with the Thursday event is to inform the public with unbiased facts about the complexity of the immigration system.

"That's why we have Brian and Haroldo speaking," Linnick said. "As we put the presentation together and did research about this, we were surprised by just how complex it is."

If all goes well, she hopes to turn this into a three-part solutions-driven event to help individuals better understand immigration in the U.S., regardless of their political stance.

To learn more about the event, visit the League of Women Voters' at .

This article originally appeared on The Daily Record: 'Becoming an American:' Wayne County group to host dialogue on 'broken' immigration system

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