Monday, May 2, 2011

'Model citizen' Nancy Romero, 18 years old, faces deportation (Florida Today)

Living in limbo
'Model citizen' Nancy Romero, 18 years old, faces deportation

12:33 AM, May. 1, 2011

QUINCY — It's hard to imagine there's a more enthusiastic cadet in Gadsden County's Junior ROTC program.

Nancy Romero, a high school senior who signed up four years ago when she was a ninth-grader at East Gadsden High, even attended a JROTC summer camp near Jacksonville, where she received special training, including riding in a Chinook helicopter.

The 4-foot-10 dynamo, whose goal is to join the U.S. Army, proudly dons her freshly pressed, hunter green uniform and shiny black patent-leather shoes to march in formation at parades.

But there's a problem.

The 18-year-old who is willing to put her life on the line for her country has learned that her country apparently doesn't want her.

Romero, who fled a life-threatening situation in Honduras more than 10 years ago to join her mother in the United States, is an illegal immigrant facing deportation.

Unless Congress passes the Dream Act, legislation designed to keep young adults such as Romero in the U.S. (it was approved by the House but failed to receive a majority vote in the Senate in December), she must leave her mother and two younger sisters on June 1, 2012, and return to a country she barely remembers.

"I don't consider myself an illegal person," Romero says. "I feel a part of this country."

Yet it could be worse, she knows. Much worse.

Until last Tuesday, with an attorney from Florida State University's Center for the Advancement of Human Rights lobbying on her behalf — along with countless high-profile Gadsden County officials and members of the local clergy — Romero was scheduled to be deported in less than five weeks, within days of her graduation from Carter Parramore Academy in Quincy.

That was when an official with the Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement office granted attorney Wendi Adelson's request for a stay.

"It was great news, but I don't know what's next," Romero says. "I'm still not secure."

Gadsden County rallies

If it takes a village to raise a child, Gadsden County has adopted that proverb and paid it forward in the case of Romero.

Sheriff Morris Young was among those who wrote letters to ICE on Romero's behalf.

Young has known Romero almost since she arrived in Quincy a decade ago. He was the school resource officer when she attended Stewart Street Elementary. They have remained close. She volunteered to campaign for him in the county's Hispanic community.

Young says he had no idea Romero is here illegally. He's friendly with her mother, Yesinia Romero, and knows she has temporary permanent status. Young is baffled that the government would devote resources to taking Romero away from her home and family.

"I understand our laws, but Nancy has molded herself to this community. She has done everything that a citizen in this country could do. She lives here. She grew up here. She deserves to be here," Young says.

Master Sgt. Jerome Kerrison, who runs the county's JROTC program, only recently learned of Romero's predicament. He too is bewildered. Romero has been a tremendous asset to the program, particularly for recruiting more Hispanic students.

"She wants to go into the service. When you look at the impact that she's making, it blows your mind," Kerrison says.

Rosalyn Smith, the principal at Carter Parramore Academy, was principal at Shanks Middle School when Romero was a student there. Smith notes that Romero, blessed with an easy, charming smile, recently placed third in the Miss Paramore Academy competition.

Romero moved last year from East Gadsden High to the academy because she needed a more intimate learning environment, Smith says.

"Nancy is an above-average student," Smith said. "She's one of those students you'd want your daughter to befriend. She believes in reaching out and helping other people.

"I think her patriotism and loyalty to the country can be seen when she puts on her uniform."

Coming to America

Yesinia Romero, 37, has spent most of her adult life in the U.S. She fled the poor Honduran town of El Progreso, located about 30 miles from the Caribbean coast, 100 miles west of the Guatemalan border, in 1996.

She had given birth to her daughter when she was still a teenager. She felt threatened by Nancy's father, whom she hadn't married. She made her way to California, leaving her only child in the care of her parents.

Three years later, in 1999, when an earthquake devastated much of the Central America country, Yesinia Romero and other Honduran nationals in the U.S. were granted TPS, or temporary protected status. She must reapply for it annually.

Meanwhile, life in El Progreso became increasingly dangerous for Nancy Romero and other members of her family. The notorious gangs MS-13 and MS-18 were running wild, and kidnappings were not uncommon. The gangs demanded ransom and didn't hesitate to use guns. Nancy, 7, had a pistol held to her head in front of her grandparents. The threats were constant.

Nancy joined her mother in Sacramento, Calif. She insists it was on New Year's Eve, 2000. Her paperwork says it was in January 2001. In either case, she was still 7. Within months, mother and daughter had moved to be with relatives in Gadsden County, where they have lived ever since.

While Nancy is comfortable in either English or Spanish, Yesinia prefers to have her daughter translate most conversations into English. Yesinia works at the Dolex Dollar Express in Quincy, a Hispanic version of Western Union that is owned by a relative. She has two younger daughters, Odalys Cruz, 8, and Yairi Cruz, 6.

"I'm the type of woman who goes by the laws and respects this country," Yesinia says, with Nancy at her side in their Burmah Heights neighborhood home, translating for her mother. "I've never been in any trouble.

"I'm dedicated to my three kids. It's hard for me to understand that my oldest daughter has to leave. It's unfair to send her back to a place where she has no one."

Thousands of Nancys

There are countless young men and women in Nancy Romero's situation. They are in Gadsden County, across Florida and throughout the United States.

Jose Godinez-Samperio, a third-year law school student at FSU who has assisted Adelson with Romero's case, says there are "millions of students in her situation."

"Her case is very, very common," he said. "Unfortunately, it's not unusual at all."

Maria Pouncey, the Quincy-based migrant coordinator for the Panhandle Area Educational Consortium, notes that in many cases, youngsters aren't aware of their status.

"I have kids coming to me after graduating from school who didn't even know they were illegal. Just because the parent has temporary permanent status, the children aren't able to get it," Pouncey says.

"The system is broken, without a doubt," Pouncey adds. "A lot of these kids want to serve our country. They love the United States. These are kids who, through no fault of their own, are in this limbo."

A spokeswoman for the Florida office of the Department of Homeland Security said each appeal, such as the one made for Romero, is regarded on a case-by-case basis. All submitted evidence is given consideration, says Danielle Bennett.

The number of illegal immigrants deported from the United States. each year is staggering. The Miami field office, responsible for Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, "removed 15,345 aliens" in fiscal year 2010, Bennett said.

Homeland Security officials have said their focus is increasingly on removing immigrants who are convicted criminals, yet Romero has never been charged with so much as jay walking.

Adelson, with FSU, is relieved that Romero has received a one-year stay, which will allow her to get a work permit and a temporary driver's license — which recently had been revoked.

"I am extremely concerned about what might happen to Nancy if she had to go back to Honduras. There are gang members threatening to kill her if she goes back," Adelson says.

Yet the attorney finds herself getting frustrated, if not outraged, when she ponders Romero's precarious status.

"To me, it feels completely wrong," Adelson says. "Nancy gets this result because she was lucky enough to have an attorney? How many kids don't have this kind of access?

"This isn't fair. This isn't a solution. To me, this isn't justice."


Pamela R.Cabrera said...

I think it is totally unfair here is a young lady wanting to serve our country, when many of our own do not, She has Been here and should be considered a citizen. My heart and prayers go out to this amazing young beautiful hearted and mind young lady, I hope our county will continue to do whatever needs to be done here for her sake. Prayers to her and her family.

Anonymous said...

If the gang is what is used to keep her here? Than why not bring all Hondurans people here. Like we don't have gangs here.