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Making a fresh start in Little Village

The question is routine, appearing on just about every job application.

“Have you been convicted of any law violation (except a minor traffic violation)?”

I pulled that one from a fast-food restaurant application, but anyone who has applied for a job, whether it’s entry level or high level, has seen a variation of the question.

A “yes” response is likely to doom the applicant. Even an arrest is likely to show up on a background check and could affect whether someone is promoted or hired, though in many cases it is illegal for employers to use arrest records to gauge employability. They seem to forget that the judicial system relies on the presumption of innocence until guilt is proven.

African-Americans and Hispanics are most adversely affected. They are arrested at a rate that is two to three times their proportion of the general population, according to 2012 statistics from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

For some, there is a remedy. They can have arrest records expunged and qualifying convictions sealed. Going through the process, however, can be daunting because of the legalese involved. For those with limited English skills, the steps are even tougher.

In recent years, August Sallas of the Little Village Community Council has put together a team of lawyers and translators to advise Latinos on expunging arrests, getting qualifying convictions sealed and clemency.

Every year the workshop has grown to include more representatives from government agencies. Every year the line of people seeking legal help grows longer. Last year more than 400 showed up.  

The fourth annual Little Village expungement workshop for adults and juveniles of Little Village and Pilsen will be held Oct. 4 from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at New Life Community Church, 2657 S. Lawndale Avenue. The most important thing to bring is a recent rap sheet from the police department, workshop planners said.

“These are people who made a mistake,” said Sallas, who plans to oppose 22nd Ward Alderman Ricardo Munoz in the February election.  “They want to straighten out their lives. They need to become employable.”

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