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Brought to Connecticut as a Toddler, 22-Year-Old Mariano Cardoso Faces Deportation a Semester Before Graduating

By Jon Campbell

February 22, 2011

Mariano Cardoso admits he crossed the United States border illegally. He traveled into the U.S. via the Arizona desert after leaving his home in Puebla, a state in southern Mexico. He and his family made their way first to New York, before finally settling in New Britain. Although he knows what he did was illegal, he didn't have a lot of choice in the matter. He was still in diapers at the time.

Now 22, Cardoso is one semester away from receiving his associate's degree in engineering at Capital Community College. Connecticut has been his home for the past two decades, since his parents brought him here as an undocumented immigrant at 22 months old. He's been to Mexico once that he can remember, to visit his grandparents when he was 7. But he'll likely be heading to that country soon.

Cardoso is nearing the end of the legal deportation process, and his attorney has advised him that any more legal actions are likely “a waste of time and money.” So he's waiting for the final orders to leave.

“I feel like an American,” Cardoso says, ashen-faced. He's discussing his case with a reporter at a Dunkin' Donuts, across the street from the federal building that houses the Hartford branch of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. “All my friends are here, these are the streets I grew up on. I've always kept a clean record, and I thought that would help me, but I don't know.” He trails off.

Cardoso says he'll probably make it to the summer, according to his attorney, because the deportation process works slowly. But he could receive a formal deportation order, and have to exit the country, in as few as 60 days.

The Federal DREAM Act would have created a “path to citizenship” for students like Cardoso, but the measure was defeated last year. It was the eighth time the legislation failed. Under that law, the children of undocumented immigrants who arrived with their parents before age 16 would have been allowed to stay in the U.S. and eventually obtain citizenship, as long as they attended college or served in the military. Proponents of the law say they'll try again to see it passed, but with Republican opposition, the chances of success seem dim, at least for the next few years.

Cardoso remembers the exact date on which he and his uncle were detained by ICE agents: Aug. 27, 2008. There was a knock at the door, and plainclothes ICE agents — who said they were looking for a woman in relation to a drug investigation — asked to come in and search the home. Because the agents lacked a warrant, the family declined to let them in. They asked for I.D., and Cardoso handed over his student identification card. Soon he and his uncle were in handcuffs. Shortly after, ICE agents also detained his father as he was coming home from work; he owns a small landscaping business.

Cardoso's uncle was sent to Massachusetts to begin deportation procedures. Given Cardoso's circumstances, ICE said he may have a chance to fight the order in court, and he was released after a short stay at a different facility in Rhode Island.

“They said I might still have a chance. So they sent me over there, because maybe the judge might somehow, for some extraordinary reason, you know, give me a chance,” Cardoso says.

Cardoso and his father are both facing deportation, but his mother has so far not been charged. Cardoso's 16-year-old sister was born in the U.S., and could stay if she wanted to, but will likely return with the rest of the family. The decision, Cardoso says, is a difficult one: uproot the entire family, or cope with an impossible distance.

Cardoso has no criminal history. He says his family has never been on any kind of public assistance. He gets good grades, works and he's funded his college education without the benefit of government-sponsored loans. He says his intention was always to continue his education in the U.S., with an eye on a career in civil engineering. If he does return to Mexico, he says he'll likely try to get a job teaching.

William Gheen** is president of a political action committee called Americans for Legal Immigration, one of the groups that helped defeat the DREAM Act at the federal level. He said Cardoso's case, as a student at a publicly funded college, is an example of how illegal immigration can hurt American citizens by displacing them from limited higher-education slots.

“In the cases of public universities, the DREAM Act basically asks American families to replace their own children in the limited seats in our colleges,” Gheen says.

Although he recognizes that Cardoso himself had no control over his parents' decision to cross the border, he said making an exception in his case would only encourage more illegal immigration.

“The benefit [of deporting someone like Cardoso],” Gheen says, “is that American workers, students, tax payers and voters would be protected from the negative impact of this illegal alien family.”

Gheen is wary of stories like Cardoso's, which he suggests are used by activists and the media to manipulate public opinion.

“People like to use students like this for political purposes, and they want us to grant broader amnesty based on his boo-hoo sob story,” Gheen says.

Gheen doesn't mince words,and his organization warns about the dangers of illegal immigration in dire terms. A 2007 article on the ALIPAC website employs the language of invasion to warn that “Americans are on the run and finding few places left to run to.” He claims that residents have begun “fleeing” the southwestern Unites States in search of more “safety and security,” all because of illegal immigration.

Cardoso said he's never wanted to displace anyone. And despite his lack of legal status, he's always thought of this country as home.

“I consider myself an American. I didn't choose to be here, but I live here. I've done nothing wrong, and I can contribute to the community. My intentions aren't to usurp anybody's place, but just to make the place where I grew up better.”

Cardoso's friends helped to organize a demonstration in front of the Main Street federal building on Feb. 14, hoping to raise awareness of his cause. He said he was making a last-ditch effort to hopefully attract some attention, and perhaps some assistance. From somebody.

“We're just trying to get my word out and see if anybody can help me,” Cardoso says “Trying to see if anybody knows a legislator, or anybody. I'm just trying to make my case public.”

** This story originally, erroneously, identified the president of the Americans for Legal Immigration as Brian Gheen. His name is William Gheen. We regret the error.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Advocate.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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