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Steamboat lawyer addresses immigration law

Alvaro Landa remembers when he could count on one hand the number of Hispanic families in Craig.

The 31-year-old auto parts store manager still knows most of the Hispanic families in Craig, but today he has a lot more names to remember.

On Thursday, Landa moved about the Craig Intermediate School cafeteria saying hello to acquaintances as more than 100 members of Craig’s Hispanic community lined up for a banquet-style dinner provided by local restaurants.



They were there to hear Elizabeth Wittemyer, a Steamboat Springs laywer, talk about U.S. immigration laws.

Since moving here in 1979 from Mexico, Landa has seen the Hispanic population swell. Statistically, about one in 10 Moffat County residents is Hispanic, according to estimates compiled by the Yampa Valley Part-ners Community Indicators Project from U.S. Census figures.



The majority are recent immigrants from Mexico. They come from Chihuahua, Jalisco and Micho-acan. Most of the men work in the construction trades, Landa said. Most of the women are housekeepers or housewives. Landa has become an unofficial leader of the group, because he’s been involved in organizing informational meetings and cultural events.

He recently became a recruiter for the Migrant Education Program, a federal initiative that provides money to schools to help educate Spanish-speaking students.

The Migrant Education Program covered the costs of Thursdays event, with support from Comunidad Integrada, a new nonprofit group whose goal is to get Hispanics and Anglos in the Yampa Valley to become more integrated.

Summer Laws, a Spanish trans-lator in the Steamboat school district and a co-founder of Comunidad Integrada, said events like Thursday’s “lawyer night,” are part of America’s classic immigrant story.

“Most of us in this country come from a line of immigrants,” she said. “The thing that makes America beautiful is that we’re a composite of people from all over the world. It’s neat to see people ask about how to be a part of this country.”

Wittemyer, a self-described small-town lawyer, cautioned the audience that she doesn’t specialize in immigration law. But she offered some tips on making the jump from residency to citizenship and answered numerous questions about immigrants’ rights. The entire exchange was conducted in Spanish.

One man wanted to know whether the police have the authority to demand documentation during a traffic stop. A woman asked whether the schools could ask for evidence of citizenship to enroll children. Another woman wanted to know whether her American-born son’s legal problems could lead immigration authorities to deport her.

Wittemyer urged audience members to seek help from a lawyer or an agency specializing in immigrant assistance.

“There’s definitely a lot of confusion, misinformation and fear,” she said. “That can lead to a lot of abuse by fly-by-night operations that promise to help them, then take their money and do nothing.”

Comunidad Integrada is organizing a Cinco de Mayo celebration. To find out more, call Laws at 846-5521.


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