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Center developers aim for safety

Emphasis is on ‘legal’ at proposed immigration center

Construction delays could postpone the opening of the proposed Minot Legal Immigration Center, but its developers say it will be a positive addition to the community.

“The main thing is we just want to help the community – and create a safe community,” said the Rev. Scott Mehlhoff with the Southside Church of the Nazarene. The church had hoped to open its legal immigration center this fall. The opening has been delayed indefinitely due to construction delays on a church expansion, where the center will be located.

Mehlhoff stressed that the church will not be sponsoring or bringing refugees or other immigrants into the area.

“We’re just going to work with the people who are already in the community – and there are probably some people maybe from Bismarck or the surrounding community who would need legal services in regards to work permits and becoming legal citizens,” he said. Canadians and overseas agriculture or hospitality industry workers who come on legitimate government visas are among those who can benefit from the center.

Mehlhoff said the church decided to work with the U.S. Department of Justice to set up a center after discovering that legal immigrants are having to travel hundreds of miles to get paperwork processed to be able to work. The center will offer a convenience to both employers and employees. The service is not free, but immigrants would be responsible for paying fees associated with the paperwork.

Ciro Cea, a naturalized citizen originally from El Salvador, is working to complete a certification that includes significant legal training to be able to operate the center for the church.

Cea said illegal immigrants would not be eligible to seek services from the Minot Legal Immigration Center. He explained illegal immigrants who attempt to file for work permits could trigger a response from federal immigration enforcement officials.

Mehlhoff added the center would close rather than process illegal immigrants into the community if the federal government ever developed a policy that would bring them to Minot.

Refugees also would not come for paperwork processing because they have sponsoring agencies that handle those functions, Cea said.

Nichole Egeberg, who has been part of a local effort to promote a Ward County resolution against illegal immigration, said more than 7,000 signatures have been collected from residents who want to be proactive. She said a legal immigration center would be good for the community.

“We need legal immigration,” she said. “Our concern is the invasion that is coming across the border, and the ones that are not checked.”

Cea and Mehlhoff said ensuring a safe community will be a priority of the legal immigration center.

“We want to do the best thing for our community,” Cea said. “Having an immigration legal services, I think, will just make our county safe. Why? Because we’re going to be running background checks on these people. If there is someone involved with anything that will break the law, we will be reporting them to the correct authorities, and they will have records of these people.”

Cea said the center will comply with the requirements of the Justice Department related to reporting of immigration rule violations.

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