Posted: Jul 19, 2012 9:24 PM by Emily Spain
Updated: Jul 20, 2012 1:44 PM
TRENTON - A young woman from Trenton will have to say goodbye to family, friends and what she calls home in a matter of days. 20-year-old Lauren Gray is facing deportation. She recently received her Bachelor's Degree of Fine Arts in Dance in May from Stephens College and hopes to become a professional dancer. But her American dream will come to a halt on her 21st birthday.
"On August 8, my 21st birthday, I age out of my parents visa," Lauren said. Lauren was born in England and her family moved here in 1995 when she was four-years-old.
"I didn't make the choice to bring myself here," Lauren said. "I was brought here and I was made to be involved in things."
Lauren's mom, Ali, and dad, Ian, moved to Trenton to be closer to Ali's parents who came to the United States to work as farmers.
"It was increasingly hard when mum came to visit to say goodbye to her and so we toyed with the idea of moving over here," Ali said.
The couple bought the Lakeview Motor Lodge and Restaurant in Trenton nearly two decades ago. Since then, it's been their livelihood and their ticket to being legal immigrants.
"We've always been legal. Every minute the four of us have been here, we've been legal from day one. We've paid a lot of money to lawyers and we've made sure that we've always been here legally," Ali said.
The entire family is legally in the U.S. because of an E2 visa or an investment visa. Lauren's parents qualify for it because they own a business and employ U.S. citizens. However, when Lauren turns 21 the government won't consider her a dependent and she can no longer live under her parents visa, making her an illegal immigrant.
"It's always been a part of my life, immigration. It's always been this hovering thing like you might have to leave. It's always feeling like we're unwanted, like I'm unwanted. I shouldn't have to feel like I don't belong in the place that I was brought up in," Lauren said.
Ali said the family members applied for their green cards in 2003. This is one of the first steps of the process to getting citizenship in the U.S. Nearly ten years later, they're still waiting on the government to issue the green cards.
"I was advised there's just nothing we can do, we have to wait our turn," Ali said. "The employment visa wasn't going to be an option this year. There was many tears and it's difficult to run the business when you're just crying constantly."
The Grays booked a flight for Lauren to go back to England on July 31 where she plans to live with her aunt. For Lauren, she will leave behind what she said is all she knows.
"I've been avoiding it for a long time, saying goodbye. I just can't even think about it," Lauren said through tears.
The rest of the Gray family members run the considerable risk of getting stuck in England and losing their visa if they try to visit. For Ali, the thought of not being able to hold her daughter is unimaginable.
"[I] just feel dreadfully guilty that I'm putting her through this. I'm sure she'll be fine. It's not easy to go through right now," Ali said.
Immigration lawyer Art Hernandez said he's seen families all across mid-Missouri face this same situation.
"Every person I have it's the same story. I've had families torn apart, where the parents get deported and the children have to find families, friends or neighbors to take care of their kids," Hernandez said.
Hernandez said making a status change in the U.S. is a complicated and slow-moving process and his best advice is something many immigrants don't have time to hear.
"The opportunities are there, but because we have a bureaucracy that requires so many regulations and so many rules, I do what I tell everybody else, just be patient, follow the rules," he said.
Ali said she's tried reaching out to Missouri politicians like U.S. senators Claire McCaskill and Roy Blunt and U.S. Representative Sam Graves. KOMU 8 also tried to contact Congressman Graves and his office sent us this statement.
"My office has assisted the family in identifying all lawful options available to them. Unfortunately, this is a complex case in which there is no perfect answer for the family or friends."
The family said it's tried everything it can think of including seven different lawyers. For now, all Lauren can do is wait.
"It's definitely not going to be okay and that's what I'm doing this for because I shouldn't have to," she said.
Lauren plans to stay in London until she receives her green card to come back to the U.S. as a legal resident. The family's hoping she'll get to return within the next two years.
Lauren started a petition on change.org, you can find it by clicking here.