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Local Student Mariano Cardoso Seeks Help From Senator Blumenthal To Avoid Deportation

A special case?

Jon Campbell

April 13, 2011

Mariano Cardoso was about knee-high when he arrived in the United States as an undocumented immigrant. His parents carried him across the southwest border when he was 22 months old, and the family eventually settled in New Britain.

Twenty years later, Cardoso is a month away from earning his engineering degree at Capitol Community College, but his past has finally caught up with him. Cardoso is facing an order of deportation that could come at any time.

Cardoso went public with his story earlier this year in a last-ditch effort to gain some relief. Over 800 people have signed a petition calling for him to remain in the U.S., and he's been the subject of news reports throughout the state, and in Spanish language media throughout the country.

Although he's exhausted all the standard legal options to remain in the U.S., there may be one more option left. A little-known legislative provision called a “private bill” — essentially a federal law written specifically for him — could allow Cardoso to stay here legally, at least for the time being. The only catch is that he'll need to convince a sitting senator or congressperson to file the bill on his behalf.

Cardoso met with staff members for Sen. Richard Blumenthal on March 14, but those involved in the meeting have been reluctant to discuss details. Blumenthal Spokesperson Lily Adams made a brief statement on April 6 regarding Mariano's case.

“Senator Blumenthal believes that individuals like Mariano Cardoso are precisely the reason we need the Dream Act. While no final decisions have been made, our office is working with Cardoso and his legal counsel to determine the best course of action to take.”

Adams wouldn't say what other options were being considered, or when a final decision might be made about Cardoso's case. Adams' reference to the DREAM Act concerns a long stalled federal law that would allow undocumented immigrants like Cardoso — immigrants who arrived here as minors, and who are enrolled in college — to gain legal citizenship after a probationary period. The DREAM Act would also make citizenship available to similarly situated immigrants who serve in the military.

According to Adey Fisseha, a policy attorney with the National Immigration Law Center, the private bill process is rather dry — it mainly involves the sending of letters between various government agencies.

After the private bill is introduced, a letter is sent to the chair of the immigration subcommittee in either the house or senate, depending on where the bill originates. The chair then sends his or her own letter to the head of the Homeland Security agency, asking them to stop deportation proceedings. Only the deportation process is affected; the individual doesn't instantly become a citizen, but they're no longer on the list for immediate removal.

Majan Jean is one Connecticut resident who's already been helped by the private bill system. Former Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd introduced her private bill in 2004, stalling the deportation process and allowing Jean to pursue a path to legal citizenship. Jean's situation echoes that of Cardoso — she was brought to the U.S. from Haiti as a young child, lived life as an American in Norwich, and planned to attend college, and had virtually no connection to the country of her birth when she was ordered to return there.

Jean said a private bill isn't a free pass — part of the agreement struck between the Department of Homeland Security and the individual lawmaker involves regular checkups from immigration authorities.

“In order to have a private bill, you have to be somewhat of a law-abiding citizen,” says Jean, and you have to be willing to keep in touch with immigration authorities while the deportation order is on hold. It's not exactly surveillance, she says. “The right word is investigation,” says Jean. “They check if you've ever got arrested; they just get an update on your situation.”

Today Jean still resides in Connecticut, and is pursuing legal citizenship through a family member. She finished college, with a degree in business administration, and now owns a small business.

Private bills are rarely passed, says Attorney Fisseha, but that's not important — just introducing the bill is enough to have the deportation orders delayed. Jean's bill, for example, was introduced repeatedly between 2004 through 2009, delaying deportation each time. The repeated filing of the bill allowed Jean to delay a final order of deportation and continue her application for permanent residence.

Private bills are a bipartisan tool, and even those who take a hard-line stance on immigration have been known to sponsor them. Among the officials sponsoring private bills in the current congress is Rep. Duncan Hunter, a conservative Republican from San Diego, Calif., known for his tough stance on immigration. Even Peter King, the conservative Republican congressman who recently led hearings on the “radicalization” of American Muslims, has introduced a private bill this session. Mr. King wants immigration authorities to make an exception for Alemseghed Mussie Tesfamical, an Eritrean soldier seeking political asylum in the U.S. because of torture he says he suffered in his home country.

Fisseha says the private bills are a necessary tool under a “broken” immigration system that doesn't always produce logical or fair results. When the law doesn't do what it's intended to do, the ability to make exceptions is critical.

“We create laws to fix systemic problems,” Fisseha says, “and sometimes the individual facts in a particular case are such that there may be an injustice when we follow the letter of the law.”

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