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Latino college students fear deportation

POSTED: October 9, 2008 5:00 a.m.
TOM REED/The Times

Maria Viana takes notes during an English as Second Language class at Gainesville State College.

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There are a few numbers that are important in the life of Lilliam, a young Gainesville State College student.
Her high school grade point average was 3.9.

Her academic achievements and dedication to working with mentally disabled children have landed her in the pages of The Times on three occasions.

And then there's 0080003682.

That's the number Lilliam had strapped to her arm when she was booked into the Atlanta Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center on July 24.

Lilliam, 19, is one of the estimated 12 million people living in the United States who are not documented residents. Following a two-month stint in jails in Atlanta and Gadsden, Ala., the bulky monitoring bracelet now attached to Lilliam's petite ankle serves as a daily reminder of her crime.

Although Lilliam, a 2007 graduate of Johnson High School, most likely entered the country legally as a minor granted humanitarian parole, a judge will determine her fate on Oct. 16 in Atlanta. By the end of that day, Lilliam may again find herself in handcuffs or bound for her native Honduras. The optimistic honors student hopes the judge will expedite her application for residency.

Tonna Harris-Bosselmann, who directs the English as a Second Language program at Gainesville State College, said Lilliam is just one of many Hispanic students who may have been taking notes in a class at the college on a Friday but filled a seat in the Hall County jail the following Monday.

Harris-Bosselmann said since 287(g) was implemented in Hall County in April, several of her undocumented students have been arrested by Hall County sheriff's deputies for minor traffic violations such as driving without a license. Many of those arrested were deported to their country of origin, bringing their college education to a halt, she said.

"We do see students who just stop coming," she said. "Sometimes they can't afford it or have difficult situations at home. But sometimes people just disappear, and we don't know where they've gone."

Harris-Bosselmann said she often follows up with her best students when they don't show up for class.

Mizrrain Morales was a rising sophomore at Gainesville State College when he was arrested for driving without a license in June. In July, he was deported back to Mexico. As a mentor for high school students and a popular academic star at the college, Harris-Bosselmann said she was sad to see Mizrrain go.

"I think it's horrible. I think 287(g) is an excuse for racial profiling: driving while brown," she said.

The cooperation of federal ICE officials with the Hall County Sheriff's Office allows the local department to begin deportation proceedings for undocumented residents who are caught violating the law. Harris-Bosselmann said the new policy and its devastating affects on undocumented families has sent ripples of fear throughout the Hispanic community.

School numbers are dropping
In the Gainesville school system, interim Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said Hispanic enrollment numbers remain stable this year, with Hispanics making up about 53 percent of the roughly 6,000 students in the city system.

She said the system recorded a 34 percent decrease in the number of students registering at the International Center at the Fair Street International Baccalaureate School this fall.

Dyer said the decrease indicates there are fewer students whose first language is not English registering with the school system.

And in Hall County schools, Superintendent Will Schofield said each year for the past 10 years the county school system has typically picked up about 600 to 1,000 new students, most of whom are Hispanic. But this year, only 219 new Hispanic students enrolled in the county system.

Hispanics currently make up about 34 percent of the 26,000-student system.

Harris-Bosselmann said slowing Hispanic enrollment numbers in K-12 schools are evidence of the fear she's seeing on the college level.

"I'm seeing a lot of desperate students, a lot of stressed out students," she said.

Roberto, 20, is an undocumented resident who's busy earning a degree in media studies at Gainesville State College. He was in Mizrrain's car with him that June night when Mizrrain momentarily ventured outside his lane as he headed toward Interstate 985 in Oakwood. Roberto said they were going to Mizrrain's parents' house to feed their animals while they were away for the weekend.

Roberto said Mizrrain had not been drinking, but at times he did have trouble guiding the wheel of his aging automobile that lacked power steering.

"As soon as we saw the blue and red lights with the sirens, we just looked at each other," Roberto said. "I thought I was going to go to Mexico with him. But they just took him because he was driving. I was really mad and scared.

"I was lucky the cop just told me to call a friend with a license," he said.

Roberto said despite the altercation his friend had with sheriff's deputies, he still drives, but only to attend early morning classes at the college.

"I do it because I have to," he said. "I do own a vehicle and it's so hard to get transportation around here. I do fear around here in Hall County because there's a lot of crazy stuff going on."

Roberto said it's the experiences of friends like Mizrrain and Lilliam that cause him to worry about his future after graduation. Roberto said he worries whether he will be able to get a job as an undocumented worker caught up in the years-long process of gaining residency.
(Note: The Times is not including the last names of undocumented residents.)

As for Lilliam's case, immigration attorney David Kennedy said laws may deem one immigrant deportable while another with a slightly different situation is allowed to stay.

"One of the frustrating things about immigration law is that it's so technical," Kennedy said.

He said Lilliam may have crossed the border into the U.S. upon being granted humanitarian parole as a minor, but her future as an adult in the U.S. is uncertain.

Coming to America
A native of Honduras, a young Lilliam boarded a bus in Tegucigalpa, the country's capital. After traveling by bus for a month, she walked across the U.S.-Mexican border with her aunt and younger brother when she was 14.

As a minor with parents already living in the United States, she agreed to sign papers written in English at a Texas checkpoint station that may have granted her humanitarian parole.

"They gave us permission to come into the country," Lilliam said. "I didn't know English then. I didn't understand anything."

When ICE officers knocked on her door on the morning of July 24, Lilliam complied with their request to see documentation. She and her brother both showed their work permits and driver's licenses that enabled them to work and drive in the United States.

"My mom, my brother and me, we all had a work permit, so we thought were legal in the country and they couldn't arrest us, so we let them in the house," Lilliam said. "They said OK, the person who we're looking for probably doesn't live here. They said thank you and everything and I went on with my day. I went to work and the gym and then church and then they came back."

Lilliam's father died from cancer two years ago. Her two youngest siblings, ages 3 and 9, are American citizens.

ICE officials awoke Lilliam, her mother and four younger siblings at 11 p.m. She and her brother complied with the officials' request for the two adults to go with them and have their fingerprints and photos taken. The simple request jump-started a chain of events which may jeopardize Lilliam's education and future.

Shackled in handcuffs attached to their waists and feet, her brother was transported by van to a detention center in Lumpkin and Lilliam to a detention center in Gadsden, Ala.

"You're sitting there handcuffed to someone thinking about life and how unjust it is," Lilliam said.

Now out on bond, Lilliam has agreed to remain in the state and follow a strict 11:45 p.m. curfew ICE monitors with her ankle bracelet.

Before her arrest, the aspiring immigration attorney had been working at the office of a public notary secretary this spring following a semester at Gainesville State College. After her court date, Lilliam hopes to resume her plan to alternate semesters of college and work to earn the $4,000 a semester out-of-state tuition required for undocumented residents.

Because of the July arrest, Lilliam was unable to attend college this fall.

"It's been the most important thing in my life since I was 4 years old. Nobody in my family has ever graduated from college, so it's really, really important. I don't really think about anything else," she said. "If God wants me to go back to my country, fine. At least I will be free there. There I have rights, I have a voice.

"Anything is better than jail."



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