UPDATE: Gray Safe From Deportation, Community Reacts
TRENTON - Recent Stephens College graduate Lauren Gray had her bags packed to go back to England. She faced deportation on her 21st birthday when she aged out of her parents' E2 investment visa. However, thanks to the support of a community and a trip to Washington, D.C., Lauren no longer has to leave the place she calls home.
Lauren planned to take a flight to England two days after her birthday to avoid becoming an illegal immigrant, but that plan landed after she got a phone call from Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill.
"Finally somebody got to the top," Lauren said.
The call came on Lauren's birthday on August 8, and McCaskill told her she didn't have to board the plane back to England.
"I was speechless," Lauren said. "I was so like just in awe and me and my support like all of us that have worked together on this got this accomplished. I did it, we did this."
The government approved Lauren for a two-year renewable deferral, which allows her to live in the country legally and never face deportation again. Lauren can renew the deferral until she gets her green card. The Grays applied for their green cards in 2003 and are still waiting to receive them. Lauren also has the right to petition for the first time since she's lived in the United States.
Lauren said though that the help started in small town Trenton, Missouri. Many who support the Gray's restaurant and motel also backed Lauren's cause. Her local cheerleaders were elated to learn life had finally dealt Lauren a lucky card.
"I almost jumped up and down because I heard it on the radio that morning," one Trenton resident said.
The Gray family heard the good news one week after Lauren, her mom Ali and her best friend Shelby traveled to the nation's capitol. There they told Lauren's story to politicians and received mixed reactions.
"Some of the aides were just really negative about it and all that they would say was, 'Sorry we can't help you. This is our immigration system it's broken,'" Lauren said.
Those responses had Ali and Lauren fighting back.
"The sides are polar opposites, one side is like let everyone in and the other is like build a fence. There needs to be some middle ground," Ali said.
While the Grays get to keep Lauren in the land of the free, they said their battle for immigration reform is just getting started.
"They'll definitely not hear the last of us I'm sure," Ali said. "It's not just for us now, it's for other people too."
"If America didn't make it so hard to do it right, then more people would do it right," Lauren said.
The Grays could face the same deportation issue with Lauren's younger sister Gemma, a college freshman. Lauren said she hopes her story will influence changes in the law or that the family members receive their green cards before Gemma turns 21.
McCaskill said the deferral Lauren received is given on a case-by-case basis. McCaskill said others with a similar story to Lauren's can call her office, but said every situation is different.
Lauren plans to pursue her dancing career in the U.S. and hopes to end up in New York one day.