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- 06-08-2006, 05:07 PM #1
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- Mar 2006
- Santa Clarita Ca
Boca High honor student, mother given parole in visa violati
http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/local/ ... -headlines
Boca High honor student, mother given parole in visa violations case
By Tal Abbady
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
June 7, 2006, 9:20 PM EDT
A Boca Raton honor student and her mother were released from detention Wednesday, weeks after their arrest on immigration charges, officials said.
Officials granted parole to Sonia Puac, 51, and her daughter, Debora, 14, in a case that underscores the predicament of immigrant children who come of age in the shadows.
Puac and her daughter are expected to arrive today from Philadelphia on an Amtrak train. "The hardest part was knowing my girl was depressed, but this has been a learning experience," said Debora's father, Francisco Puac, 51, who is here legally. " I didn't realize at the time it was a mistake," he added about the decision to send Debora to school on a tourist visa.
Immigration authorities arrested the Boca Raton High freshman and her mother April 30 at Miami International Airport as they attempted to re-enter the country and charged them with visa violations. Officials transferred them to a Pennsylvania detention center, where Debora completed daily cleaning chores and at one point was treated for anxiety, her father said.
Before the arrest, Sonia Puac and her daughter had shuttled back and forth to Guatemala for seven years. They crafted a permanent life in the United States from the six-month stays allowed by their renewable tourist visas and enrolled Debora in local schools. The pair shares a home with Francisco Puac, who has lived here since 1998 and received political asylum in 2001.
Lake Worth attorney Thomas Lobasz has filed a political asylum claim for Debora and her mother and says the visa-related charges, which he says resulted from a bureaucratic mix-up, will not bear on their asylum case.
"This case further proves that our immigration system is broken," Lobasz said. "We're forcing people to make bad choices."
The Puacs, who were charged with overstaying their visas on a previous visit, will appear in court for a hearing, though no date has been set. They have a 12-month parole.
"When people are in violation of the law they shouldn't be surprised if they're subject to the enforcement of those laws," said Barbara Gonzalez, spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Miami. "[The Puacs] will have due process under the law and will have the opportunity to present the facts of their case before an immigration judge."
Gonzales would not say why Debora, a minor, was not immediately released to her father. She also would not comment on why the Puacs were released Wednesday from the Pennsylvania facility where they were transferred in early May.
Lobasz filed a May 15 request with immigration officials to release the Puacs on parole. As of Tuesday, Lobasz said no decision had been made and a hearing was scheduled for June 15. A story detailing the Puacs' arrests and lives in the United States appeared in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel Wednesday.
Francisco Puac said immigration agents in Miami told his wife her main transgression was enrolling Debora in school. He blames himself for their ordeal.
"I stayed up at nights thinking, 'I'm the guilty one. I'm behind this,'." said Puac who owns Mayari's Guatemalan Bakery in West Palm Beach. His daughter's middle name is Mayari, the Mayan word for princess.
Public schools must accept children regardless of their legal status. But Lobasz concedes the Puacs could not use a tourist visa, meant for pleasure visits, to send their daughter to school.
Supporters of strict immigration enforcement argue undocumented immigrants sap public funds.
"Public education is among the costliest of government services at the state level, and illegal alien workers can't contribute in taxes what they and their children use in services," said John Keeley of the Washington D.C.-based Center for Immigration Studies. Visa overstays represent about 40 percent of illegal immigration, Keeley said.
Puac, who pays taxes to the U.S. government, fled Guatemala after receiving death threats, but obtained tourist visas for his wife and daughter so they could continue to visit the couple's two grown sons in Guatemala. Political asylum applicants are subject to travel restrictions.
Debora thrived as a cadet in her school's Navy JROTC program. Her naval instructors wrote immigration officials asking for her release.
"For the past two months we've been waiting to hear from her," said Larissa Salvador, 16, battalion commander of Boca Raton High's Navy JROTC program. "We wondered if she'd ever come home. She has big prospects for her future."
Tal Abbady can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 954-356-4523.
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