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What is law enforcement's role in the pathway to citizenship?

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YAKIMA Wash. -- When it comes to illegal immigration, what do local police and deputies do and what don't they do?

There can be many misunderstandings when it comes to the legal situation of undocumented immigrants.

Local college student Perla Chavez is an undocumented immigrant under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Chavez has been arrested twice for civil disobedience while protesting in Washington D.C.

"We decided no we're not going to listen to you guys, we're going to stay here and we're going to keep screaming and shouting until we are heard,” said Chavez.

Chavez didn't have any run-ins with immigration in that arrest, but Chavez's mother Esmeralda Ambrez says they are constantly scared that police or ICE will find them and deport them.

"If I go out for lunch I’m scared I might come across ice and that my kids will stay here waiting for me, or if they're at school and ICE takes me while I’m at the grocery store my kids will come home to no one,” said Ambrez.

With many undocumented immigrants living in our neighborhoods, people and authorities can be put in tough situations.

Yakima County Sherriff's Office Chief Criminal Deputy Robert Udell says, officers have a separate function from ICE and will not come after undocumented immigrants unless there is a warrant against the person.

"We don't necessarily ever assist them in their main function of going after undocumented aliens, that's their job, but they will help us or we'll help them if it's warrant specific,” said Udell.

Udell says if someone is caught breaking the law they will treat that person the same as anybody else.

"If we stop somebody and they don't have a driver's license or I.D. then we deal with that person the same as we would with anybody, we're colorblind that way,” said Udell.

Udell says when it comes to any kind of emergency everyone should feel safe to dial 9-1-1.

"If someone calls us for an emergency, we don't go to their house and quiz them about their nationality or where they're from or their citizenship, it's not proper because everybody deserves to be protected and get the benefits of justice in this country,” said Udell.

Although local law enforcement is not out to get undocumented immigrants, many who aren't here legally are still living in fear.

But the process of getting legal status or citizenship is not always an easy one.

Executive Director of La Casa Hogar Laura Armstrong says undocumented immigrants can face several barriers when trying to get citizenship in a new country.

"Cost, access to legal services especially in rural areas like Central Washington, emotional adjustment or depression,” said Armstrong.

Directing Attorney with the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project Laura Contreras says the process of gaining citizenship can be a long one taking sometimes over 10 years.

"If this individual entered the country unlawfully without permission at the border and entered by walking in through the desert, then it's going to be very difficult for that individual to obtain his visa here in the United States and he needs to leave the country in order to obtain that visa,” said Contreras.

Contreras says the problem is many people have already grown families here and it is not easy for them to leave and not be sure if they'll be able to come back.

"It's very possible that they might have the permanent bar and they're not ever going to be able to adjust their status or fix their papers,” said Contreras.

DACA is set to expire March 5th, until then DACA recipients can renew for another two years.

We tried to contact ICE several times over the last few weeks, but they declined our request for an interview.

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