Rule bars non-citizens from youth volunteer jobs

Article subtitle: 
Immigrants rights group protests at Keizer City Council meeting
Article author: 
Saerom Yoo
Article publisher:
Article date: 
Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Article category: 
Oregon Issues
Article Body: 

An Oregon immigrant rights organization and its supporters testified at Keizer City Hall on Monday in hopes of stopping a new rule that would bar non-U.S. citizens from serving as youth councilors.

Supporters of the new rule also testified, saying participating in the government process should be a benefit of citizenship.

On Aug. 20, the Keizer council approved an update in the volunteer program for youths, indicating that candidates for the position must be eligible to vote if they are 18 years old.

The rule would keep non-citizen immigrants, regardless of legal status, from participating.

The youth volunteers advise the council on issues that affect young people in the community.

A key issue for the immigrant rights advocates was the timing of the council’s action. It came shortly after Hugo Nicolas, 19, a former Keizer youth councilor and undocumented immigrant, went public with his status and applied for the Obama administration’s deferred action program.

Nicolas and Francisco Lopez, executive director of Causa, stopped short of accusing the City Council of acting on the rule in response to the attention surrounding Nicolas. Considering the timing of developments, they said, it’s hard to believe it was a coincidence.

“That’s the question that we have today,” Lopez said. “Why now?”

Councilors and Mayor Lore Christopher maintained that the rule was revised as part of a review of all of the council’s rules and procedures.

Councilor David McKane said the citizenship rule was added as an eligibility requirement to make it consistent with the rules the councilors and mayor must meet to be serve in local government. They must be citizens of the state, he said.

It was the subcommittee’s hope that the youth councilors could eventually serve as city councilors, he said.

Nicolas gave emotional testimony, his voice shaking. He thanked the council for allowing him the opportunity to serve as youth councilor two years ago.

But the new rule sends an unfortunate message to youths, he said.

“We share a city but not a community,” he said.

Nicolas went over the three-minute time limit, set by Christopher because of the lengthy speakers list.

But councilor Mark Caillier allowed him to continue, asking, “Hugo, what else do you want to say?”

When Nicolas finished, his supporters applauded. City officials responded, apologizing about the timing of the council’s action.

McKane told Nicolas that the rule had nothing to do with him.

“If there’s anything that I can do or we can do to help you, all you have to do is ask,” he said.

Nicolas recently garnered media attention when he traveled to Portland to apply for the deferred action program. If eligible, he could be shielded from deportation for two years. He could also apply for a work permit that would allow him to work legally in the U.S.

Nicolas was brought illegally to the U.S. from Veracruz, Mexico, when he was 11.

Less than a week after the Statesman Journal story about Nicolas’ journey was published, Keizer City Council made a decision that would prohibit youths such as Nicolas from volunteering.

Two days later, Nicolas received the Mayor’s Youth Achievement Award from the city of Salem. The award is presented to a youth or youth group involved in a volunteer project benefiting the city.

Lopez said he hoped the City Council would reconsider the rule, and involve more people in coming up with a solution.