Illegal immigration issues find way to nation’s heartland

Sam Hananel

WASHINGTON (AP) A Missouri student who has spent years fighting her deportation to Costa Rica has received another extension of her stay in the United States.

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office is allowing Marie Gonzalez to remain in the country for one more year, long enough for her to graduate from Westminster College in Fulton.

Gonzalez, 21, has won two similar reprieves since 2005, but the most recent one would have expired in July. She is on track to complete her degree in political science in December.

“The biggest thing for me has always been the degree,” she said in a telephone interview. “The reason why my parents brought me to the U.S. was to get a good education.”

Ever since Gonzalez’ life and the lives of her parents were thrown into chaos three years ago, she has become an activist on behalf of thousands of undocumented students who want to become U.S. citizens. She was born in Costa Rica, but has lived in Missouri since she was 5. Her parents entered the country on six-month visitor visas and missed their chance to apply for permanent status.

Gonzalez’s father was working as a courier in the governor’s office when he was fired in 2002 after an anonymous tip about his status.

Gonzalez’s parents were deported to Costa Rica in 2005, but intervention from Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., led to a temporary reprieve for Marie so should could continue her education.

“Sen. Durbin has been one of my strongest supporters and he was pretty adamant about trying to get another extension,” Gonzalez said.

Over the last three years, Gonzalez has traveled to Washington nearly a dozen times. She also has become a national advocate for the federal DREAM Act, a bill that would give thousands of undocumented students who came to the United States before age 16 the chance to become permanent residents if they attend college or join the military.

The legislation has stalled in Congress the past two years, but Gonzalez is hopeful it will have a better chance of passage next year with a new president in office. Opponents of the measure call it a misguided attempt to reward illegal immigrants.

“We keep talking about how much change is necessary,” Gonzalez said. “I’m hoping with a new administration that it can happen.”

Gonzalez said she would like to get a job in Washington next year before she leaves for Costa Rica. She hopes to make a little money to take back to her parents, who are still struggling financially after returning to their home country.

She has not seen her parents since they were deported. Because of her status, Gonzalez would not be allowed back into the United States if she traveled to another country. Her parents are barred from returning to the U.S. for 10 years.