by Regina Cantu @ Matt.org
Olga Zanella, a Texas resident born in Mexico and currently a college student, could not bring herself to make plans to make a life in Mexico after being told American immigration authorities were working resolutely to deport her.
Zanella has been living illegally in the United States since her parents brought her here when she was 5, and the thought of moving to a violent country she does not remember, where she had no close family, rattled her with fear. She was pulled over by the local police in February 2009 as she was driving in her hometown, Irving, Tex., and did not have a driver’s license. The police handed her over to immigration agents and she has been fighting her deportation for two years. Ms. Zanella is studying at North Lake College in Irving to become a dentist. The police in Irving never explained why they stopped her and never issued any traffic ticket,
Her case looked bleak, but in recent days everything changed. Last Thursday, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement official in Dallas summoned Ms. Zanella and told her she could remain in this country, under the agency’s supervision, if she stayed in school and out of trouble.
Encouraged by the surprising turnaround, Ms. Zanella’s parents and two siblings, who also had been living in the United States illegally, presented papers late Monday to ICE, as the agency is known, turning themselves in and requesting some form of legal immigration status.
ICE’ eventual decision in Ms. Zanella’s case is an example of the kind of action Democratic lawmakers and Latino and immigrant groups have been demanding from the Obama administration to slow deportations of illegal immigrants who have not been convicted of crimes. In particular, pressure is increasing on President Obama to offer protection from deportation to undocumented immigrant college students who might have been eligible for legal status under a bill in Congress known as the Dream Act.
In an April 13 letter, the top two Democrats in the Senate, Harry Reid of Nevada and Richard Durbin of Illinois, asked the president to suspend deportations for those students. But short of that, the senators asked Mr. Obama to set guidelines by which those students could come forward individually to ask to be spared deportation and to obtain some authorization to remain in the United States. The letter was signed by 20 other Senate Democrats. The Dream Act passed the House but failed in the Senate in December.
Homeland Security officials have said their focus is increasingly on removing immigrants who are convicted criminals. That, in fact, is what an ICE official told Ms. Zanella in explaining the new decision in her case.
“As long as I do well in school and stay out of trouble, I will be out of trouble with ICE,” Ms. Zanella said she was told. She has to report to ICE every month.
In a similar story, immigration authorities also suspended the deportation on Tuesday of Mariano Cardoso, 23, a Mexican student at Capital Community College in Connecticut, according to Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, who had pressed Mr. Cardoso’s cause. ICE’s decision ended a two-year battle against deportation for Mr. Cardoso.
But nationwide the administration’s deportations policy remains confused and erratically implemented, immigration lawyers said, with many students and immigrants without criminal records being deported
*Pictured: Zanella, high school graduation
Cardoso, News Tribune