Until Tuesday afternoon, the future was looking grim for Mariano Cardoso Jr.
Brought to this country illegally by his parents when he was a baby, the 23-year-old Capital Community College student was facing imminent deportation to Mexico, a country he did not know.
But while at school Tuesday, Cardoso got a call from Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, telling him that federal immigration officials had granted a rare stay of deportation and that in all probability he will be able to remain in the U.S. indefinitely.
Professors, fellow students and immigration activists were the first to come to his aid, launching a grassroots campaign on his behalf after his appeal of his deportation order was denied in February. Media coverage caught the attention of Blumenthal and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who last week wrote to immigration officials urging them to defer Cardoso's deportation.
"I feel relieved," Cardoso said after learning the news. "I wasn't sure it was going to happen."
Blumenthal's office announced the decision. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials confirmed the ruling Tuesday evening.
"I am thrilled by this outcome, which is good for him and good for the country," Blumenthal said.
Supporters argued that Cardoso should not be blamed for a decision his parents made when he was a baby and that he has a lot to contribute here.
"That he could not make a decision for himself when he was brought to this country at 22 months of age should not impede his ability to make a better life for himself here, now," Malloy said in a statement.
In 2008, Cardoso was spending time with family members in his uncle's backyard in New Britain when immigration agents and a local police officer showed up. They said they were looking for a woman who was a suspected drug dealer, but none in the group knew her.
Unable to produce documents, Cardoso and two relatives were detained. Although no criminal charges were filed, Cardoso was kept at a detention center in Rhode Island for two weeks until his family posted $5,000 bail.
He was ordered deported after a hearing in Hartford immigration court in February 2010 and his next appeal was denied last February. Although he could have taken his case to the U.S. Court of Appeals, his attorney, Anthony Collins, told him he would have virtually no chance of success and suggested the risky step of going public with his case.
"I can't say how courageous it was for him to stick his neck out there like this," Collins said. "The opposite could have happened and he could have been deported."
Cardoso, by nature reluctant to draw attention to himself, eventually told his story to the Trinity College student group Stop the Raids.
"We were very upset at the beginning because we weren't sure how to help him," said Sandra Gonzalez, a Trinity senior and president of Stop the Raids.
The group organized demonstrations, started petitions and contacted the media. Students in the state had organized last year to support the DREAM Act, which would give young immigrants such as Cardoso a chance to study and eventually get documents.
The DREAM Act passed the House of Representatives last year, but was blocked by a Republican filibuster. Cardoso and his supporters say they will continue to work to get it passed.
"Many other young people share his ties to our community and country and have a great deal to offer," Blumenthal said. "The DREAM Act is really the long-term solution."
Cardoso said he wants to be a math teacher or civil engineer. He said he does not have the money to attend a four-year university now, but hopes to someday.
Collins said it is customary for stays of deportation to be renewed every year, as long as the recipient has a clean criminal record. A deportation stay also allows an immigrant to apply for a temporary work visa.
When Blumenthal called Cardoso Wednesday, he asked him if he was going to celebrate the news. Not any time soon, Cardoso told him.
"He said he had to wait until after his exams," Blumenthal said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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