I have a bit in common with Lauren Gray, a young woman from Trenton, Missouri, who immigrated from Great Britain with her parents when she was four who now faces becoming an illegal overstayer because of a glitch in US immigration policy. I’ve been an ex-pat most of my adult life, and negotiating the hazardous maze of just about any country's immigration department is nightmarish, exhausting, expensive and frustrating – although some countries are more reasonable than others, I’ve found. It doesn’t seem the States, though, is one of them.
See, Lauren’s problem isn’t that she was brought to the States as a toddler illegally – far from it. Her parents scrupulously adhered to proper rules and regulations. She’s done everything right, but under the DREAM Act, only those children who entered the States illegally are eligible for residency. Like Lauren, they must have arrived before they were 16, resided continuously in the US for at least five years, graduated high school, be law-abiding, with no felony convictions or significant number or types of misdemeanours, and not a threat to national security.
Lauren’s grandparents became naturalized American citizens in 2003, and immediately filed green card applications for their daughter, Ali, and her two young daughters, Lauren and Gemma. Lauren was 12. Nine years later, Lauren is about to turn 21, and will no longer be eligible to remain in the States on her parents’ visa. Lauren’s family has spent more than $20,000 on six lawyers and badgered every lawmaker in Washington they could, trying to find a way past this immovable road block, to no avail. In three years, her younger sister, Gemma, may face the same dilemma.
The media has been rather quick to point out that no federal agents have knocked on her door, she’s received no phone calls or letters from the DHS demanding she leave the United States. Hey, she’s blonde and pretty and white and a former cheerleader and a star student in her dance college, her parents own a business that employs 28 people. Their neighbours love them. Who’s going to object if she just becomes an overstayer?
But those who haven’t gone through this predicament don’t seem to understand what Lauren does – if she stays illegally, she risks being turned down for a green card forever. So, like I’ve done as well, while waiting in the limbo-land of immigration applications, she’s doing the sensible thing – she’s going on a reluctant Gap Year tour, leaving the country and going back to where her passport says she’s a citizen, to sleep on her Aunt Sue’s couch in a small London flat.
I have the utmost sympathy for Lauren, but I’m aware it could be so much worse... and quite possibly is... for those children caught in the same trap who aren’t blonde and pretty and white and a former cheerleader and a citizen of another English-speaking first world country. There are a lot of places to be deported to that won’t be as comfortable, or as safe, as Aunt Sue’s sofa in London.
She’s become a reluctant poster child for a faulty immigration policy – and I can only hope that in the media’s rush to resolve Lauren’s unfair deportation someone fixes what’s broken rather than simply wall-papers over one girl’s problem, so that all the other children whose parents played by the rules don’t get screwed over as well.
Update: Lauren has launched a petition on www.change.org in the hope of gaining attention for legal immigrants. While it's unlikely to affect her own situation, she hopes it will help others like her, including her own sister, Gemma. Meantime, the Grays are still waiting... and waiting... and waiting for their long-overdue green cards, while Lauren plans to get a job in London dancing professionally. Please feel free to sign her petition at: