Sunday, September 14, 2008

American dream derailed (Greensboro News-Record)

American dream derailed

Sunday, September 14
(updated 3:00 am)
By Jason Hardin
Staff Writer

GREENSBORO — Moises Campos Palencia made a left turn that changed his life — possibly forever.

Police last month stopped Palencia, saying the light had turned red before he made it through the intersection.

Palencia didn’t get a ticket, but they found he had a standing deportation order dating to when he was a child brought here illegally by his parents.

Now the Greensboro business owner is sitting in a Georgia jail, hoping he can stay legally and wondering when he’ll see his wife and 4-year-old daughter — both U.S. citizens — again.

Palencia said his life is here, not Mexico.

“I went to school. I graduated. I started my business. I paid my taxes,” he said, speaking from a phone at the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Ga. “I know that I haven’t done anything wrong in this country.”

The sudden separation is hard on them, he said. Hundreds of miles separate him from his family. His wife, Nayelli Rojas Campos , worries about keeping their car audio business going. His daughter wonders where her daddy went.

“I grew up here. I don’t have anything in my country,” Palencia said. “My wife is here. My daughter is here. It’s hurting us a lot.”

His story illustrates an often-murky situation experienced by immigrants brought here as children.

They didn’t choose to come here, and often arrive at such a young age they have no memory of living in another country. For all practicial purposes, they are Americans. If they had been born here, instead of brought here at a young age, they would be citizens.

But they often were not brought here in accordance with immigration laws, either, and make up a significant portion of the undocumented immigration population in the United States.

For foes of illegal immigration, issues such as education and other services for undocumented children are a hot button.

And once they are caught up in the immigration system, a path to citizenship can be difficult if not impossible.

Palencia arrived when he was 9. Not long afterward, his parents were caught and ultimately were deported. Palencia, though, never left, bouncing around different homes, ultimately winding up with his sister, said his attorney, Jeremy McKinney .

He ultimately wound up in removal proceedings himself, and while still in his early teens, went to court and agreed to voluntary deportation.

He faced a deadline to leave, but his sister worked to help him stay, and they won a postponement of the deportation. According to Palencia, he never got official notice of a date to leave.

In 2000, he married his high school girlfriend, a U.S. citizen, and filed under a Clinton-era provision, now expired, that would have cleared up his status. They divorced a few years later, though, scuttling that plan.

Then he got to know Rojas Campos, who also was brought here from Mexico as a child. Unlike Palencia, who had few options once his parents were set to be deported, she wound up on a path to citizenship.

Their situations now illustrate the contradictions of immigration policy. If Palencia had arrived in the United States today, he would be eligible for a green card. Instead, while his wife was sworn in as a citizen in early September, he awaits deportation.

To McKinney, it’s an unusual case, and one in which he believes Palencia deserves a break.

“It’s a major factor that he was 15 years old at the time,” he said. “A 15-year-old saying, 'Why am I not leaving?’ and being told they’re fighting the case, to me that’s reasonable.”

To get that break, he’ll have to persuade Immigration and Customs Enforcement to reopen the case. That happens, he said, but not often.

“It’s a one-shot kind of a deal,” McKinney said.

Ivan Ortiz , an ICE spokesman, said the agency will see whether any information hasn’t been considered.

“ICE is going to look at the case as we do in all cases,” he said. “Maybe there is something that we didn’t know.”

Still, Ortiz noted that Palencia didn’t voluntarily step forward, but instead was found out.

In the end, time is a factor.

If Palencia is deported, he wouldn’t be able to return for several years. McKinney said the hope is to persuade ICE to reopen the case before that happens.

“Where are the family values in splitting up families needlessly, when we’re not talking about any kind of criminal element?” McKinney asked.

In the meantime, Palencia calls every day from jail.

Rojas Campos cries when she talks about their daughter.

“She misses him a lot,” Rojas Campos said.

If he is deported, she plans on going back and forth to Mexico, so their daughter would not grow up without knowing her father.

But that wouldn’t exactly be a homecoming for Rojas Campos, who has been back to Mexico once since she left.

“It would be a whole new country for me,” she said.

And all their other plans are on hold.

They had been talking about expanding the Greensboro store, on High Point Road, and opening a store in Durham.

Palencia has big dreams. But right now, he is focused on just one thing.

“I’m praying to God that I’m going to stay here,” he said.

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