CNN Money has reported that legal immigrant Lauren Gray has been granted a two-year reprieve that will permit her to remain in the United States presumably under President Obama's recently announced deferred action initiative. The article didn't provide specifics about the reprieve.
Here is what I do know. Lauren, a citizen of the United Kingdom, came to the United States as a four-year-old child with her parents in 1995 on a valid E-2 visa. She is a college graduate, speaks with an indistinguishable American accent, and looks as American as apple pie.
Her parents came to the United States to invest in a hotel and restaurant in a small town in Missouri. She has maintained lawful status for every second that she has been in the United States.
Despite the fact that she has always followed the law, on August 8, 2012, she was facing the very grim prospect of either having to leave the country or becoming undocumented, which would result in the accrual of unlawful presence in the United States. This would preclude her ability to apply for the Green Card that she has been patiently waiting for, or any other type of temporary immigration status. Moreover, if she accrues either more than 180 days or one-year of unlawful presence she would automatically trigger a three or ten year bar to readmission respectively should she leave the country.
Her immigration crime you may ask? Her 21st birthday.
The 21st birthday for most born in American is a date of liberation and is the first step towards true adulthood. It is a day of celebration. For Lauren, there was nothing to celebrate, as her 21st year resulted in her no longer being entitled to derivative status under her parents' E-2 treaty investor visa.
For Lauren, it was time for her to either pack her bags and leave the country that has been her home for 17 of her 21 years, the country that she earned her college degree, the country where her family will continue to live, or having to step into the shadows under the stigma of being an undocumented immigrant.
In simple terms she was stuck between a rock and an immigration hard place.
Lauren and her family have been trying for nine years to legally fix this problem, but due to severe visa backlogs there simply is no immediate solution for her. In 2003, her mother was sponsored for a Green Card under the family based 3rd preference category as a married daughter of a United States citizen. According to the most recent visa bulletin individuals that have had immigrant 3rd preference petitions filed on their behalf on May 15, 2002, are now finally at the front of the line to apply for lawful permanent residence.
For Lauren, and for tens of millions of other people that are patiently waiting in line for their visa, the law is both unforgiving and punishing. Thankfully, Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) intervened on Lauren's behalf, and she has been given a temporary two-year reprieve by the Obama administration.
The time is long overdue for our leaders in Washington to seriously address comprehensive immigration reform, not just for the people who are here illegally due to no fault of their own, but for the people that are being punished for following the law.
It would be nice if our President could at least acknowledge the complexity of the immigration reform problem by including it as an important issue on his campaign website. His opponents have. Although admittedly it would be little more than a token gesture, it at least would be a pledge that the President will aggressively work with Congress to form a bi-partisan solution should he win reelection. That is what he promised last time around.
At the very least President Obama needs to release a working framework of a reform plan to start the dialogue.
Isn't that what leaders do?
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Matthew Kolken is a trial lawyer with experience in all aspects of United States Immigration Law including Immigration Courts throughout the United States, and appellate practice before the Board of Immigration Appeals, the U.S. District Courts, and U.S. Courts of Appeals. He is admitted to practice in the courts of the State of New York , the United States District Court for the Western District of New York, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and is a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA).