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Originally published November 17, 2013 at 8:07 PM | Page modified November 17, 2013 at 9:11 PM

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Detained legal residents urge hard line on immigration

A group of legal permanent residents, housed at the immigration detention center in Tacoma, have distributed a letter urging that undocumented immigrants not be granted a path to citizenship.


Seattle Times staff reporter

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Among the letters that members of Congress have received urging they take one position or another on immigration, was one signed by 13 men at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma.

The signers of the three-page missive, all legal permanent residents in the U.S., are making a plea, not about conditions at the 1,579-bed facility or about some violation of human or civil rights there.

Rather, they are asking lawmakers not to grant a legal path to citizenship for those in the country unlawfully.

That’s unlikely to happen anyway, at least this year, as Speaker John Boehner last week announced the House would not take up a comprehensive immigration bill the Senate passed earlier this year.

That bill included a process for granting legal status to many of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country.

Still, the request from those at the detention center is surprising, given that legal immigrants have long been among the most vocal advocates of granting legal status to unauthorized immigrants.

But these detainees, from countries such as Jordan, Scotland, Somalia and Mexico and in the country in some instances for as long as 40 years, are giving voice to another group of legal immigrants — those who say illegal immigration tarnishes them all, especially as debates around the issue have grown more heated

“We take great offense that the country we grew up in is considering giving a reform to people who have done everything illegally as compared to our legal efforts for naturalization,” they wrote in the letter.

“Permanent residents should not be classified with illegal immigrants due to (illegal immigrants’) crime. ”

The government, they write, should focus less on the needs of unauthorized immigrants whom they say illegally entered the country and obtained false documents to work here, and more on the needs of citizens and legal permanent residents like themselves, who they say grew up in and are products of this country.

Under federal law, legal permanent residents, like the men who wrote the letter, can be stripped of their green cards and deported to the country of their birth if convicted of certain crimes, including aggravated felonies, moral turpitude or crimes involving controlled substances.

The detainees say they should be allowed to answer for their crimes in criminal court and not be subject to immigration proceedings on top of that.

The Northwest Detention Center houses 1,500 detainees. The U.S. pays a private contractor, The Geo Group, $100 a day for the first 1,181 people at the center and $62 a day for each occupied bed beyond that.

One of the detainees, Jaime Davila Ortiz, who came to the U.S. from Mexico 40 years ago when he was 2, said the government needs to revisit the policy of deporting legal immigrants like him.

“We’ve been through the school system here — went from kindergarten to college here,” he said.

“I played football like any other American kid. I always considered myself to be an American kid.”

But so do many undocumented immigrants, including young people brought here by their parents as children, who attend school alongside other American children.

Davila Ortiz was transferred to the detention center several months ago after he was arrested and convicted in his home state of Oregon on a drug-possession charge. He’s fighting deportation to Mexico, a move that would cost him his legal status.

Davila Ortiz, a father of four, has worked in emergency response as a wildland firefighter and trains crews of firefighters who have responded to national catastrophes

Davila Ortiz’s father mailed about 45 of the letters to members of Congress from both Oregon and Washington — even to the president of the United States.

Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or lturnbull@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @turnbullL.



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