immigration

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Pamela Vanegas and Manuel Torres discuss civics in their final study session before the 81-year-old takes his citizenship test.
Kristen Hare | St. Louis Beacon | 2010

They sit across from each other at the table. She asks questions. He answers them.

"OK, please stand up," Pamela Vanegas says, and Manuel Torres does. "What did I ask you to do."

"To stand up."

"OK, please raise your right hand."

He does.

"Do you swear to tell the truth today?"

"Yes," he says with feeling, then sits down.

Jim Hacking
From law firm website

Most of us say deportation, but in legal circles, with the government and those who find themselves involved with a case, it's called removal.

The word itself pretty much describes what happens: A person is literally removed from this country for a number of reasons. But how removal works is not necessarily easy to understand or navigate.

She sits in a small conference room at her lawyer's office. It's mid-morning, hours before she heads to a popular downtown St. Louis restaurant, where she buses tables. Maria isn't her real name, but what she's requested we call her for this story. She's 32, small, with short brown hair and big silver hoop earrings. She's a mother to four, an employee, a daughter and a sister.

And she's undocumented, meaning she has no legal status in this country, which is why we're calling her Maria instead of her real name.

"It's broken."

Despite differing viewpoints, nearly everyone the Beacon spoke with about our immigration system had that same answer. Their thoughts on reform differ in many ways, but agreements did crop up and often included the need to simplify the bureaucracy, to control our borders better and to impose some penalties on people who came here illegally or who are now here undocumented, without necessarily sending them home.

"It's broken."

Despite differing viewpoints, nearly everyone the Beacon spoke with about our immigration system had that same answer. Their thoughts on reform differ in many ways, but agreements did crop up and often included the need to simplify the bureaucracy, to control our borders better and to impose some penalties on people who came here illegally or who are now here undocumented, without necessarily sending them home.

Interviews were edited for clarity and length.

Ken Schmitt didn't set out to be an immigration lawyer.

He got involved, however, when he started his own practice and knew people who were graduating from American schools and wanted to stay and work as professionals. Then, the majority of his clients had a minimum of a bachelor's degree and were offered jobs, but that only made up about 20 percent of his practice for a while.

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