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July 19, 2012 | 12:00 a.m. CST
Lauren Gray says she feels just like an American. She, like most U.S. citizens, celebrates the Fourth of July and has an American accent. However, recently the U.S. government has withdrawn Lauren’s legal status as an immigrant.
The Stephens College alumna graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts in dance. She moved here from England with her family when she was 4 years old. She has been living here legally ever since.
Her grandparents, who became legal citizens in 2003, applied for her family to get green cards, which were supposed to arrive in November 2011. However, their family was pushed back on the list, and Lauren is being forced to move back to England until her green card is approved. At the age of 21, she will no longer qualify as a legal dependent under her parents’ E2 visas.
Lauren knew returning to England was always a possibility, but she never thought it would become a reality.
“The lawyers always said, ‘You’re going to get a green card before you have to leave,’” she says.
Although Lauren hasn’t given up hope, she’s booked a one-way plane ticket to England for July 31. “When I go back, I’m going to be alone there,” Lauren says. “My family is here, all of my friends, my connections, my whole circle.”
She’ll live with her aunt in Greater London, a city she barely knows. Lauren says she wants to save money for her own apartment and eventually audition for dance companies.
Her parents and younger sister, Gemma, won’t even be able to visit due to the extensions on their visas, which restrict traveling outside the country.
The Grays moved here to give their children more opportunities, and Lauren says she dreamed of dancing professionally in New York or Chicago after she graduated.
“It’s very sad that she doesn’t get to start her career she’s worked so hard for,” Lauren’s mother, Ali Gray, says.
When President Obama issued a Department of Homeland Security directive in June, Lauren became optimistic she would find a way to stay. The directive prevents deportation of undocumented immigrants who met essentially the same requirements outlined in the now-defunct DREAM Act. Lauren meets all the criteria to apply for a work permit under the directive: entering the U.S. before the age of 16, living here for five consecutive years, being between the ages of 12 and 35, earning a high school degree or GED, being accepted into a college and having a good moral character.
The only issue: She’s a legal immigrant and has followed all the rules of getting citizenship.
“We have done everything possible legally to be here,” Colin Withers, Lauren’s grandfather, says. “The silly part is we all would have been better off if we would have never been here legally.”
Wither says if the family members had come into the country illegally, they would have qualified for amnesties and Lauren’s family would already have received their green cards.
“I’m still trying to do everything the right way,” Lauren says.
Lauren and her family have contacted several politicians, including Senator Roy Blunt and Congressman Sam Graves, but all have said there’s nothing they can do.
Lauren started a petition on Change.org to inform the public about her story. It has more than 2,000 signatures, but she says it’s still not enough to get noticed.
Shannon Blanchard, an attorney who has given Lauren legal advice, says: “Right now immigration laws are so messed up that really good people like Lauren fall through the cracks. It happens every day.”
“I’m not asking to take the rights away from the illegal immigrants that got helped by the new directive,” Lauren says. “I’m just asking to be included.”