The path to U.S. citizenship is a long and challenging one, and can become even more difficult if those seeking to become Americans get involved in criminal cases.
"If you do not have the documents (of being a U.S. citizen), you need to live life cleanly," said Cynthia Renteria, an Edinburg attorney specializing in immigration law who gave a presentation at The University of Texas-Pan American Thursday, April 12. Renteria's presentation on how criminal cases can affect immigration was one of many in the College of Social and Behavioral Science's Sixth Annual Research Conference held April 12-13.
Even those who have legal residency in the United States need to be careful about how they live their lives in this country because some criminal cases, even if no conviction comes out of it, can jeopardize their chances of becoming U.S. citizens and possibly get them deported, Renteria said.
The two-day conference, themed "Fronteras y Puentes: Understanding and Transforming Borders Through Social Science Research," featured cutting-edge research on a number of border issues, including immigration, security, trafficking and smuggling of people and products and health disparities.
"I think that we tried to do two things with this conference: one was to really show what great resources we have in our community and here at our University, and at the same time, we wanted to focus on issues that were important to our students and to our community at large." said Dr. Jessica Lavariega Monforti, associate professor of political science at UTPA. "We chose this particular theme, 'Fronteras y Puentes,' to really show that we have choices about some of these issues, that we have experts on a lot of these issues, and these are issues of life and death and quality of life and substance of life. These are all issues that so many of our students and so many members of our community deal with on a daily basis."
Lavariega Monforti said she and other organizers hope those who attend gain more knowledge about the issues facing both sides of the border and what resources are available to them at the University and in the community.
In her presentation, Renteria first explained the process for some to become a U.S. citizen and how U.S. citizens can petition for their family members to become citizens. For some families, the process can take up to 18-20 years.
"It's not that easy," Renteria said.
The process can become more difficult, even halted, if a person seeking citizenship has a run in with the law, she added.
Cindy Ayala, a senior majoring in psychology, attended the presentation and said she plans to go to law school and specialize in immigration law.
Ayala said she appreciated Renteria's explanation of immigration law because she was not aware of some of the requirements to become naturalized and situations that can jeopardize a person's chances of becoming a citizen.
"I never realized how hard it is to get into the United States," Ayala said.
She said she was glad the University hosted the session because it is an important issue for many people in the community.
"I think it's vital for us because living right across the border ... there are a lot of immigrants and I think something like this would be helpful for them," she said. "Being here would give them the little boost to look for an attorney."
Other speakers included Dr. Rocío Magaña, assistant professor of anthropology at Rutgers University, whose presentation was "Criminalizing Water: The Right to Rescue, the Politics of Protection, and Migrant Lives on the American Border Desert;" and Dr. Michael Montoya, associate professor of anthropology at the University of California, Irvine, whose presentations were "UnMaking the Mexican Diabetic: Race, Science, and the Promise of Community Knowledge" and "Diabetes, Curanderos, Health Intervention and Research on the U.S.-Mexican Border."
The UTPA Library also held a grand opening celebration for its Border Studies Archive April 13 that featured a presentation by Dr. Martha Menchaca on the importance of archival research. The archive allows visitors to access audio and visual materials from its six collections: border music, border wall and border security, Latinas and politics, Spanish land grants, traditional Mexican American folklore and visual border studies. Visitors also can view selections from the collection's 2,672 photographs in a projected slide show and watch selections from more than 150 hours of video.