Monday, October 13, 2008

Marriage offers no guarantee: Illegal immigrant set to be deported (Wichita Eagle)

Marriage offers no guarantee: Illegal immigrant set to be deported

Rosana Gregg's arrest and impending deportation has her husband trying to find a way to keep the family together.

The Wichita Eagle

DeWayne Gregg's world has come undone in the month since a federal immigration officer arrested his wife at their south Wichita home.

Tears sprang to his eyes as he talked about the confusion, helplessness and despair of being torn from his wife of seven years, Guatemalan immigrant Rosana Gregg.

He finds himself shuffling his work schedule and juggling baby sitters for the couple's three children, ages 6, 4 and 2, while his wife waits in a Lyons County Jail.

He said his wife could be deported later this week -- she's been in contact with the Guatemalan consulate to make travel arrangements.

"I have three kids," said DeWayne Gregg, 39, a Wellington native. "I didn't plan for this."

No 'legal force field'

Immigration documents show that Rosana Gregg immigrated illegally to the United States in 1998 near Brownsville, Texas, on the state's southernmost tip. She applied for asylum, but her request was denied.

It's unclear when immigration officers first arrested her -- her husband said it could have been the same day.

Rosana Gregg was released following the arrest and given instructions to appear before a federal judge, said Tim Counts, a spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Immigration documents DeWayne Gregg keeps in a folder in his house show that his wife received a deportation order in 2000, which she appealed.

An appeals court upheld the deportation order in 2002, documents show.

DeWayne Gregg said he met his wife in Wichita at the manufacturing company where they both worked.

The couple applied for a marriage license in March 2001 and were married a month later.

DeWayne Gregg said he didn't know about the deportation order. He knew his wife was trying to get her papers in order, but said he had problems with attorneys who offered incomplete or bad advice that created paperwork mistakes and caused missed court appearances.

He said that after their wedding, the couple hired a lawyer. In 2007, the lawyer was found guilty of immigration fraud for forging documents and collecting hundreds of dollars in fees from clients who hoped to stay in the country legally.

"Rosana didn't trust after that experience," DeWayne Gregg said. "She was misled after that experience."

As her husband and a U.S. citizen, he submitted forms to secure her legal status, but to no avail.

Immigration officials still considered her a lawbreaker because of the previous deportation ruling.

"Marriage to a U.S. citizen does not create some sort of legal force field," Counts said.

After the appeals court upheld the deportation order, Counts said, Rosana Gregg became a fugitive.

Tracking fugitives

There are more than 500,000 immigrant fugitives at any given time in the country, Immigration and Customs Enforcement estimates.

Immigration enforcement officers jokingly call the deportation letters sent to immigrants who lose their appeals "run letters," Counts said, because people go into hiding, rather than turn themselves in.

"There are hundreds of thousands of convicted people who have thumbed their noses at immigration deportation orders," Counts said. "We feel that's unacceptable."

Fugitive Operations Teams, an initiative launched in 2003, investigate, locate and arrest immigrant fugitives and carry out deportation orders. Since the program started, its agents have reduced open cases from more than 630,000 to about 570,000 as of August, Counts said.

'Hurting children'

DeWayne Gregg said he still doesn't know what's to come for his family.

He recalled the day his wife was arrested. A plainclothes immigration officer knocked on their door Sept. 13. The couple let the officer in thinking he was a salesman.

The officer showed his badge, and explained that he needed to take Lydia Rosana De Leon Velasquez -- Rosana Gregg's maiden name.

DeWayne Gregg said his wife told him how sorry she was.

The officer waited until she was outside -- out of the children's view -- before putting her in handcuffs.

Now, the couple is trying to decide what to do with the children. DeWayne Gregg is reluctant to let them go to Guatemala with their mother, saying "if it was such a good place then why did she come here?"

In the meantime, family friend Gloria Delgado is helping take care of the children.

"The children cry," she said. "They don't know where their mom is."

Delgado said DeWayne Gregg is a hardworking man, but doesn't earn enough money to sustain his household.

Rosana Gregg, Delgado said, was working and saving to help her husband keep the family afloat.

"We've talked with different lawyers and they don't know much," Delgado said. "They don't know how to help. Their help takes money, and he doesn't have money right now."

Counts said people who have been ordered deported can't return to the United States for roughly 10 years.

But, once outside the U.S., people can apply for a waiver and return earlier.

Lynn Williams, another family friend, said she thinks having immigrants return to their homelands -- away from their children who are U.S. citizens -- is problematic.

"Even in the best of all conditions without all of the mix-ups or problems, you're telling these people, 'You have to leave your kids for years,' " Williams said. "We're hurting children."

DeWayne Gregg said he'll figure out a way to scrape together at least $5,000 to hire a lawyer to bring his wife back after she's deported.

"She didn't rob a bank," he said. "She didn't hurt nobody.

"She came here illegal. They caught her and let her go. They made a door for her thinking that she had a chance."

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