He is not a criminal and has been supporting his wife and four American-citizen children, working with the permission of immigration authorities. This spring he became one of thousands of immigrants swept up in the Trump administration's directive to immigration authorities to deport most anyone in the country illegally.
Many readers asked why Lara Lopez didn't just "sign up" or "get in line" to become a citizen during the years he has lived here. We sought some answers and found that there are no such options for undocumented immigrants in the United States.
Lara Lopez' lawyer, David Leopold of Cleveland, said that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Homeland Security have the authority to allow people like Lara Lopez to stay until the immigration laws are revised.
But under the current system, an undocumented worker in the United States has no options to become legal. He or she would have to leave the United States and start the process to enter the country from the beginning, a process that could take decades or may not even be possible.
"Unauthorized immigrants who want to regularize their status in this country cannot just 'get in line,'" according to the American Immigration Council, a non-profit group that aids immigrants.
"There are lines, but a large number of aspiring immigrants are not eligible to be in any of them," the council's website says. " Even if a prospective immigrant does meet the formal requirements to immigrate, the wait can be very long if she or he is applying from countries that are currently oversubscribed."
Barring a last-minute reprieve, Lara Lopez, who recently bought a house in Willard in Huron County, will be on a plane at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport on July 18, for a one-way trip to Mexico City, leaving his wife and children behind.
Lara Lopez' story about coming to America is not uncommon. He said his decision to come in 2001 was made out of desperation for a job that could help support his mother. His father had died when he was an infant and he had grown up poor, he said.
"I grew up with needs, my mother tried to help me move forward but I couldn't, I grew up seeing my good mother suffering and I decided to come here where I am today," he said in a translated email. "I didn't have the privileges then that I have now. I had always heard about 'El Norte, USA.'
"It was very difficult for me to get to this beautiful place that is full of opportunities, and I thank God for letting me be here in this place where I've been living for 16 years," he continued.
Lynn Tramonte of America's Voice, an immigration support group, said there were very few jobs in Chiapas, Mexico, where Lara Lopez grew up, and none that paid enough for him to support his family.
She said he had no real skills, such as carpentry or plumbing, and no way to learn them. She said it would be literally impossible for someone in his position to have gotten a visa to enter the U.S. legally.
"People in situations like that are desperate," Tramonte said. "Their prospects are so bleak that they will risk their lives to come to the United States for a better life. They will travel through the hot desert, risking running into dangerous people, but they do it for themselves and their families. After all, none of us have a say in where we are born. It just happens. We are the lucky ones to be born here."
The council offers a primer for the challenges faced by undocumented immigrants in the United States to become legal. Here's a look at some relevant immigration facts and policies:
What are current ways that people can come into the methods of immigration into the United States on a temporary or permanent basis?
There are generally three different routes: employment, family reunification or humanitarian protection. Each is highly regulated.
• Employment-based immigration requires a U.S. employer to request specific foreign workers.
"To come to the United States for employment purposes — either temporarily or permanently — foreign workers must generally have a job lined up with an eligible employer who will sponsor them," the website says. "An employer can request permission to bring in specific qualified foreign workers, but only if they meet the requirements, such as job skills and education level, and if the employer cannot find a qualified U.S. worker to take the job first. Most of the qualifying professions for permanent immigration require high levels of education and professional experience, such as scientists, professors, and multinational executives.
There are a limited number of temporary visas for highly skilled or internationally recognized workers. There are also temporary, seasonal opportunities for agricultural workers and certain other "less skilled" workers. In most of these cases, an employer must petition for the worker."
Leopold noted that even the system for visas for workers to come to America for a limited amount of time to plant or harvest crops is flawed. He said the law does not allow enough of the visas to fill the needs.
In the case of Willard, farmers in Huron County find it difficult to hire American or migrant workers to plant and pick their crops, even for $18 an hour. Many of these and other jobs go unfilled in the county where the unemployment rate is 4 percent.
• Family-based immigration.
The website says family members in the U.S. can seek permission to bring in other family members, but these are subject to many regulations depending on the country of origin. In some cases, only certain relations can be used such as parents, sons or daughters. Sometimes the income of the sponsoring family member is a big factor and in all cases, there is a quota system to restrict the number of immigrants.
• Humanitarian protection
The website says the United States allows a limited number of refugees in for humanitarian reasons. These people must demonstrate a "well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, membership in a particular social group, political opinion, or national origin." The number is reached very quickly.
How long is the wait for people who try to come in legally?
The website notes that there are always more people who want to immigrate to the United States than there are slots available. This results in significant backlogs for most family members and some workers hoping to enter the United States legally, with some immigrants from certain countries waiting decades.
"As of May 2016, for most countries, unmarried children of U.S. citizens must wait more than five years and siblings of U.S. citizens must wait more than 10 years" the website says. "People from countries with high levels of immigration to the United States--Mexico, China, India, and the Philippines--generally have longer waiting times. For example, married children of U.S. citizens from Mexico must wait more than 20 years for a visa to become available, and Filipino siblings of U.S. citizens currently wait about 25 years."
What about the immigration lottery?
The website says: "If a person who wishes to immigrate to the United States does not qualify under the family, employment, or humanitarian systems, there may be one more legal path. The annual Diversity Visa program makes 55,000 green cards available to persons from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. People from Mexico, China, the Philippines, India, and other countries with higher levels of immigration to the United States are not eligible."
To qualify, applicants must have a high school education and two years of job experience. Since millions of people around the world apply each year, the chances of obtaining a visa through the lottery are extremely low.
What about immigrants who marry an American citizen?
Leopold said that does not apply to people who entered the country illegally. Their option is to leave the United States and apply to enter the U.S., but they normally have to wait at least 10 years, even if they have an American spouse waiting for them. They could get a waiver if they can show that separation would cause severe stress, something difficult to prove.
The immigration website concludes that some people in foreign countries are simply not eligible for immigration through regular channels.
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