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'Dreamers' who left US miss immigration reform

Thursday - 7/18/2013, 1:34am  ET

In this May 18, 2013 photo, Maria Antonia Diaz, 60, poses for a photo at the San Juan Bosco Migrant Shelter where she volunteers in Nogales, northern Mexico. Diaz took her daughter Adriana Gil Diaz to the United States without authorization when she was a baby. Her daughter grew up and went to school in Phoenix, Arizona, but at age 20, decided to return to her native Mexico where she could afford to attend college. But nearly two years later, unforeseen bureaucratic hurdles have blocked her daughter from enrolling, and she’s run out of money. She also missed her chance at qualifying for legal status in the United States. (AP Photo/Nick Oza)

Associated Press

NOGALES, Mexico (AP) -- When U.S. President Barack Obama began stopping the deportations last year of some young immigrants living in the country illegally, Adriana Gil Diaz realized that she had just made the biggest mistake of her life by returning to Mexico.

Her mother took Gil to the United States without authorization when she was a baby, and she grew up and went to school in the legal shadows.

Then, at age 20, Gil decided to leave her Phoenix home and return to her native Mexico where she could afford to attend college. But nearly two years later, those dreams have crashed: Unforeseen bureaucratic hurdles have blocked her from enrolling, and she's run out of money. She's also missed out on a rare chance to qualify for legal status in the U.S.

"It was really sad, depressing to feel I was so far away and that I had lost the opportunity to apply for that process," Gil said.

Last year, Obama lifted the hopes of many immigrants when he announced his government would defer deportation for hundreds of thousands of so-called dreamers, or people such as Gil who entered the U.S. without legal permission when they were under the age of 16. Since implementing the program last August, the U.S. has approved the applications of some 400,000 people seeking to stay in the country.

Gil not only would have qualified under that plan but, as it turns out, actually might have been better off getting caught and forcefully deported back to Mexico. Immigrant advocates say they know of dozens of dreamers in similar circumstances.

A major reform package backed by Obama, which would make the broadest changes to immigration laws in nearly three decades, allows dreamers who were deported to return legally to the U.S.. But that wouldn't apply to those who left the country on their own, explained Kamal Essaheb, a lawyer for the U.S.-based National Immigration Law Center.

The reform bill must still be approved by the House of Representatives, where majority Republicans say they won't support the bill as written by a bipartisan bloc of eight senators.

"I don't think the Gang of 8 thought about a situation like this when they came up with the bill," Essaheb said.

Including people such as Gil would undermine the purpose of the Dream Act, a long-pending, separate bill that would grant legal residency to dreamers, said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the advocacy group Center for Immigration Studies, which supports tighter restrictions on newcomers to the U.S.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., indicated Wednesday they would support legislation generally letting dreamers stay in the U.S.

"The reason there is a decent amount of public support for something like the Dream Act is that it's supposed to be for people who came to the United States very young and don't know many people," Krikorian said. "They have no options to go anywhere else. But these people have proven they have options to go elsewhere, and if it didn't work out for them, then such is life."

Luis Leon, 20, also returned to Mexico two years ago after living without authorization in the United States for 15 years. He too had hoped to complete his studies in Mexico and had enrolled at the University of Veracruz. But he spoke no Spanish and couldn't adapt to life in Mexico.

"I'm afraid I'm going to be left out," said Leon, who grew up in North Carolina. "They'll accept everyone still in the country but they won't take all of us who left, who did not commit any crime, who went there when we were little. I feel that's not fair."

Immigration advocates say Congress should remember dreamers such as Gil and Leon in any immigration reform package.

"There must be a way to resolve cases like these," said Mohammad Abdollahi, an Iraqi native who's leading the dreamers movement at the National Immigrant Youth Alliance.

Abdollahi said many young people who voluntarily returned to Mexico are still waiting to continue their educations south of the border.

Many of them can't afford fees to enroll in Mexican universities and can't get any financial aid. Others are unable to pay for official translators required to convert English-language school transcripts into Spanish, Abdollahi said.

There are no figures on how many young people returned to Mexico or how many dreamers were deported by the United States.

"A majority of the ones I know are self-deported because they wanted to study and encountered many barriers to do so in Mexico," said Abdollahi.

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