- Associated Press - Saturday, May 28, 2016

MCMINNVILLE, Ore. (AP) - Immigrants often have many questions about their legal status and path to citizenship. In McMinnville, many of them turn to AnaVella Magana, an immigration counselor at Lutheran Community Services Northwest.

Sometimes, Magana said, the answer is simply, “Sorry.” And that means looking into sad, frightened and desperate faces. The Yamhill Valley News-Register reported (http://bit.ly/1TAqP7g).

“My least favorite part of the job is telling people they don’t qualify for help or the person they thought had helped them initially was guilty of fraud,” she said. Fortunately, she is able to offer messages of hope in many other cases.

Over the last six years, Lutheran Community Services Northwest has helped more than 2,000 immigrants pursue their legal rights, said Jordan Robinson, the agency’s Yamhill County director. And he said much of that help depends on money raised during the agency’s annual Fiesta.

This year’s event was held with 220 people in attendance. “Your contributions make sure that Yamhill County is a more welcoming community,” Robinson told the crowd.

In addition to helping immigrants, often from Mexico, the agency also aids refugees from Central America and the Middle East.

Stephanie Legard, principal at Sue Buel Elementary School in McMinnville, said the agency’s immigration services are vitally important to many of her students and their families.

“They help eliminate any barriers our families might have,” she said. “They help people exercise their legal rights in a way that is less costly and less stressful.”

Robinson said the agency helps immigrants obtain permanent residency cards, passports, family-based visas, legal asylum documents, employment authorizations, deferred action documents for children and adults, naturalization documents, travel and re-entry documents, visitor visas, English language proficiency, temporary protected status, translation and notary certification. He said it also assists survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking,

About half of Sue Buel students are Hispanic, Legard said, and many are recent immigrants.

Immigrant children and their families often fear deportation for them or loved ones, which makes legal processes scary, Legard said. “This can have a devastating impact on children and their ability to learn,” she said.

Brain physiology looks different in people suffering from severe emotional distress, she added.

“This makes a tremendous difference,” she said. “Would you be able to memorize the times table if you were being chased by a bear?”

The United States can scarcely afford to lose the contributions of new immigrants, she said. A teacher from Mexico was “an absolute rock star” in education, she said, but couldn’t get hired because of her immigration status.

Juan Manuel Corona, one of the immigrants aided by Lutheran Community Services, told the crowd about his years as a master chef, earning an array of awards and certifications. But two factors held him back, he said, people’s prejudices against him as a Mexican immigrant and his difficulty, as an older adult, to pick up a second language.

“I overcame all obstacles except for English,” he said.

Corona’s story is not typical, because no one’s story is typical. People’s stories are as varied as the individuals themselves.

But Magana said that’s the point. What is truly universal about Corona is that he has a story to tell, she said, and so do all other immigrants facing stereotypes, judgment and hostility from people who can’t see them as individuals.

Numerous immigrants have faced almost unimaginable obstacles and endured almost unimaginable sacrifices to create better lives for themselves and the people they love, Magana said.

“Many of these people are heroes,” she said. “They just need to be reminded of that from time to time.”

___

Information from: Yamhill Valley News-Register, http://www.newsregister.com

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