Thoughts on immigration

[deleted account] ( 7 moms have responded )

Read the article. Do you think the boy should be forced to visit Juarez? It is a VERY dangerous place. Do you feel we need a legal loophole for children caught in this situation? What kinds of legislation would you propose to help children in this situation, or do you feel these cases are too few to bother with?





Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, isn't at the top of many families' summer vacation travel lists. In fact, in February the US State Department re-issued a warning, telling American travellers to avoid the city due to its high murder rate and prevalence of violence related to drug cartels.

Yet Thomas Stephens says if things don't change, that's where he and his son are headed. He says the policies of the US government and missteps by state officials give him no other choice.

"They have made mistakes and they're not willing to come back and rectify those mistakes," says Stephens. "They're allowing us to pay the price."

His son, Javier, was abandoned by his birth parents at age 3 after they came to this country illegally. He became a ward of the state. The Stephens began fostering him at age 4 and adopted him at 7. Now, he is a 17-year-old rising junior at Woodmont High School where he's on the honor roll and the soccer team. He's just like the other guys his age in a lot of ways. But in the ways most important to him at this time in his life, he is not.

"I can't drive a car and can't get a job," says Javier. "I'd like to work as a lifeguard. It makes me mad when I see my friends doing it and I know I can't. I want to work and want to make money."

Javier's problem is he's not a legal US citizen. His father and mother, Brenda, blame SC Department of Social Serivces.

"They let us adopt Javier without him being a legal citizen," says Thomas.

DSS will not specifically discuss the case with us, citing privacy laws. But here's what we do know: when the state has an undocument child in its care who is going to be put up for adoption, its policy is to apply for the child's citizenship before the adoption takes place. Thomas and Brenda say they didn't know enough about the process at the time to ask questions. They say their attorney didn't even know to ask those questions.

"It wasn't until later when went to INS to apply for Javier's citizenship, they told us DSS should have gotten his green card before we adopted him," says Thomas. "INS told us they couldn't process his adoption because he didn't have a green card or birth certificate."

That was six years ago. Since then, the Stephens have been through what they call a "nightmare" in their quest to get Javier's citizenship. It would take too long to explain all of the obstacles they have faced, but Thomas says when it's all over it could cost them as much as $30,000 in legal fees -- not to mention countless hours tracking down paperwork, getting it apostiled, writing volumes of correspondence, and travelling to the Mexican consulate in Raleigh, NC.

And now, they face the emotional turmoil of knowing they'll have to go to Juarez to fend for themselves in a Mexican courtroom -- unless something changes. To see their plea to DSS for help and hear how DSS is responding, watch Chris Cato's "Community Watchdog" report.

UPDATE - 9/21/12

Brenda Stephens says efforts to circumvent the trip to Juarez have fallen short.

"Senator DeMint's office passed our case along to the US Department of State, and they said our only alternative is to travel to Juarez," says Stephens.

Irene Steffas, an Atlanta immigration attorney representing the Stephens, says they have to go to the Mexican consulate in Juarez to go through the "consular process" for screening Mexican nationals who wish to apply for US citizenship. She says every year, thousands of juveniles like Javier who were brought to the US illegally as children must go to Juarez to acquire US citizenship.

"Every day, immigration attorneys pray that the federal government will bring back 245-I," says Steffas, referring to the immigration policy revived by President Bill Clinton.

245-I allowed illegals seeking citizenship to apply at consulates within the US. It expired in April 2001. Brenda Stephens says she hopes Javier's situation will highlight the need for Congress to reinstitute the policy -- an unlikely scenario given the nation's current mood on immigration.

"As recent history has shown, ANY changes in immigration law are very, very contentious," said a spokesperson for US Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) in response to our question about whether the Senator would support bringing back 245-I.

"Javier is innocent. It's not his fault he was here illegally. It's unfair for him to have to put his life at risk to be a citizen and to contribute to society, to pay taxes," says Brenda.

She says Javier and his father will make the trip to Juarez before December 19th -- Javier's 18th birthday. If they go after he turns 18, he will be considered an adult and it will delay his re-entry into the US.

"I'm very worried for their safety," says Brenda. "It's a dangerous situation."

Steffas says a couple of years ago, an immigration attorney colleague of hers sent a family to Juarez to process a citizenship and the father was gunned down in a drive-by shooting.

"I don't want to have to send my clients to the most dangerous city in the world," says Steffas. "But at this point, that's about the only alternative."

She says there is an outside chance that a consulate in another country could hear their case, but it's a long shot because it would open the door for anyone to petition that country's consulate for American citizenship.


This kid lives in my community, he is friends with several of the teens in my neighborhood, I know the boy. He's a great kid despite the odds. Most children abandoned by their parents at age 3 have major issues with attachment, opposition, etc, but he beat the odds. It would suck to see him tossed back into Mexico at this point, when all he really knows is America--he wouldn't survive there.


Elfrieda - posted on 09/24/2012




Just as a practical note, do they have to stay in Juarez? I have relatives and friends who live in Chihuahua (the state not the city, it's the same state as Juarez is in if I'm not wrong) and it's quite safe in general out in the smaller villages and towns, but anyone going to or through Juarez does it fast and in the middle of the day and avoiding certain parts of town. So they could avoid a lot of the danger by NOT being there at the most dangerous times of day. Rent a house out in a village somewhere and only go in for court meetings, etc. Or stay in a hotel in one of the villages, they would have to ask once they get there, but there are lots of hotels that are sort of "mom and pop" type of establishments with no brand name or website but are cheap, clean, and safe.

And it would be a very good idea to have someone who lives there guide you. It seems like the officials don't really have set rules... there are extra fees and such at the border if you seem like you can afford it, but if you have someone to do some fast talking for you you can avoid some of that.

Sorry for your friend's situation, that is horrible and I agree, totally unfair. I have zero problem with people sneaking into a country to make a better life. It's not my problem to decide the big picture policies, but I can see what's right on an individual level.


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[deleted account]

DSS cannot fix their mistake now because the child is no longer in their custody; once he's been adopted there is no legal way to go back and fix it.

They may explore the option of a lawsuit in the future, but right now, it is not an option because they only have until Dec. 19th before their son is deported, no lawsuit can be brought before then. Even so, to my knowledge, there is no actual law that says DSS must file for an undocumented child's green card, only a policy saying that they need to, so while they did disregard policy, they didn't technically break any laws. Besides that, if they did sue the burden would not fall on the people who made the mistake, it would fall on the taxpayers, and on the people DSS helps because of cuts made in order to pay the lawsuit. Charities have been set up to help with expenses, but the main issue at hand is the danger evolved in the trip to Juarez.

Perhaps tax payers should fund a team of body guards to protect them.....that would be good if we cannot create a way for them not to have to go.

Sally - posted on 10/01/2012




If DSS was supposed to get his citizenship before his adoption, it is their fault he is here illegally. If DSS doesn't fix their mistake, the family should sue them to cover their costs and hassle.

Kristi - posted on 09/26/2012




That is ridiculous and absurd! It's disgusting what governments (all levels) can do to people. I was very excited when Obama took office because I thought he was going to do something positive for immigration.

I think there needs to be some legislation in place that allows people who came here between such and such a dates to be immuned from having to leave the country in order to obtain a green card. Amnesty, might be the word I'm looking for here. Each person has to pay x amount of dollars (not a lot though, because even those with false papers or those working under the table still don't earn that much.) and learn English. Most immigrants are ready, willing and grateful to work at any job. They aren't here to live off our system and steal our jobs. They are here because they are desparate for a better life, if not for themselves, at least for their children.

My 2nd husband walked here from El Salvador by himself at the age of 15 to escape poverty and violence. He was illegal when he got here but at some point they opened up Temporary Protection Status, which allowed for him to get his papers to work. We tried to apply for his green card after we got married but just to get the ball rolling we had to come up with $5,000. We didn't get very far. But we do know that he would have to go back to El Salvador for a minimum of 9 months before he could come back into the US. Of course, he would lose his job and his son would have to go with him because he is a single father. So his only hope is that TPS is deemed necessary until/if Congress passes something that says he doesn't have to leave.

I am so sorry for your friends. That is truly tragic, moreso that the DHS won't step up and fix things. I know how scared I was (still am honestly) every year-18 months waiting to hear if TPS was renewed. I can only imagine the fear they face now. I will keep them in my prayers and hope they can get through the system before he turns 18.

[deleted account]

I don't know about the lawyers. It was a mistake by SCDSS. Basically, DSS can apply for citizenship for an undocumented child without having the birth certificate and without the child ever having to leave the country, but a parent cannot do this. In order for the Stephens to apply for Javier's citizenship, Javier has to go to Juarez in person. Basically, he should never have been placed for adoption before he had become a citizen, but they let the Stephens adopt him anyway.

Elfrieda, thanks for the advice about staying out of the city. They may know that, but I'm going to pass it on. They do not know how long they have to stay, they won't know until they get there.

Tracey - posted on 09/25/2012




Are there not lawyers involved in the adoption process, who should have sorted this out at the time?

Kimberly - posted on 09/22/2012




Its very sad that this young man has to go through so much hoop jumping for something he had no control over, 3 year olds dont cross boarders by themselves, but in the same sense you really cant have a 'loop hole' when it comes to immigration because then where do you draw the line? How do you determine who deserves to use it and who doesnt? I do think they should bring in the law that you can apply within the US as it sounds crazy being sent to such a dangerous place. He sounds like a good kid with a good head on his shoulders and I really hope that everything works out for him.

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