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Residents air immigration questions




Olga Detrixhe knows firsthand how misinformed most people are when it comes to immigration issues.

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Olga Detrixhe knows firsthand how misinformed most people are when it comes to immigration issues.

After coming to Fort Hays State University as a German exchange student, she fell in love and married a Hays resident. Most people, she said, are surprised to hear that life change did not grant her citizenship.

"Every American I've ever talked to, no matter how well educated they are or how well-versed, everybody thought just because you marry a citizen, you become a citizen," Detrixhe said. "No, that is not true. You can apply for a green card, and after three years, apply for citizenship."

And that process is much more complicated than people realize, she said.

"It's very cumbersome," Detrixhe said. "It's pretty complicated, and it's pretty expensive."

Detrixhe was one of approximately a dozen people gathered at Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church on Thursday evening for a round-table discussion with Charles Pratt, a community relations officer for U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services.

Pratt was quick to emphasize his organization has nothing to do with deportation and immigration law enforcement. USCIS primarily handles requests for benefits and helps educate the public about immigration policy, he said.

"The important thing that I do is give you good information, so I answer questions and don't let you think the wrong things," he said.

The presentation was hosted by the Hays Sister Cities Advisory Board, and Pratt also spoke at Fort Hays State University on Thursday afternoon. The purpose of the presentation primarily was to discuss the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA.

The program applies to immigrants between the ages of 15 and 30 who came to the U.S. as children, and grants eligible residents the ability to live and work or go to school for two years without the risk of deportation. They also are given a Social Security number.

The program started in 2012, meaning the first round of renewals is in progress. Current enrollees can apply for renewal every two years through the duration of the program. If the federal government decides to discontinue the program, immigrants legally could stay until their current DACA permit expires, Pratt said.

While many in attendance had questions about DACA, the conversation quickly turned to broader immigration issues and specific questions pertaining to individual cases.

Scheduled for one hour, the program ended an hour later than planned due to the number of questions asked.

The meeting was a rare opportunity for locals to get reliable information from a readily accessible source, said Carol Solko-Olliff, who helped organize the event.

"I just think there's a lot of misinformation about the program and a lot of uncertainty, just because not knowing how long it will be in effect," she said of DACA. "So our goal in asking Chuck to come was that he could provide information to kind of dispel some of the 'You can't' or the 'What ifs.' I just think it puts people a little more at ease if they hear it from someone who works at the agency who's not an enforcement person."

This is the second year Pratt has visited Hays; last year's presentation only drew one person. While Thursday's presentation marked significant growth, it's hoped the event will continue to grow.

"I think there are a lot of people who could benefit from it," Detrixhe said. "As you can tell, this has been going on for an hour longer than it was scheduled, so people have lots of questions. I think that's good."