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Phoenix-area mother’s deportation highlights difficulties to obtain citizenship

Jacquelinne Perez, left, and her husband Miguel Obando, right, both of Nicaragua, go through their paperwork to apply for U.S. citizenship, at a two-day citizenship workshop in celebration of National Citizenship Day, Friday, Sept. 16, 2016, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

PHOENIX — The controversy surrounding a Phoenix-area woman’s deportation this week has raised one question in particular: Why didn’t she try to obtain legal status?

Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos is a working mother of two who has lived in Arizona illegally since she was a teenager. She was deported Thursday after a routine check-in with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.

Garcia de Rayos was arrested and found guilty of felony identity theft in 2008, after a raid on her workplace by then-Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio uncovered false papers that she used to obtain the job.

She was allowed to remain in the country, so long as she checked in with immigration officials under an executive order signed by then-President Barack Obama.

But after she was arrested, people began wondering why she didn’t legalize her immigration status after spending more than 20 years in the United States.

According to her attorney, Garcia de Rayos did try to legalize her status. Her sister, a U.S. citizen, filed a petition on her behalf. But because of a backlog, she had to wait years before she could begin the legalization process.

Another route Garcia de Rayos could’ve taken was to have one of her two U.S.-born children petition for her, but she had to wait until they turned 21. He oldest son is 16-years-old.

Immigration attorney Ayensa Millan points out that under current laws, undocumented immigrants who entered the country illegally can’t adjust their status.

But there are a few exceptions.

She said if a family member filed a petition on their behalf prior to April 30, 2001 — like was the case for Garcia de Rayos — they can legalize their status. That’s because they’re covered under Section 245(i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.

“Essentially what that does is it allows you to adjust your status, even though you entered the country illegally, as long as you pay a $1,000 fine,” Millan said. “However, right now the backlog of petitions from U.S. citizens to their siblings is 20 years or longer.”

She added most undocumented immigrants entered the country illegally and aren’t covered under Section 245(i). Currently, the only way they can legalize their status through a petition from a U.S. citizen child or spouse is if they leave the country for at least 10 years.

“Obviously, that’s not feasible for people,” she said about the 10-year ban. “That’s why we have so many people in this country who live in the shadows and are now able to fix their status.”

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