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  1. #1
    Senior Member FedUpinFarmersBranch's Avatar
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    May 2008

    Ca-SOB-Armenian refugees stuck in legal limbo

    Armenian refugees stuck in legal limbo
    Tyche Hendricks, Chronicle Staff Writer

    Sunday, July 13, 2008

    More... On the cusp of adulthood, Fresno high school valedictorian Arthur Mkoyan, 17, is wrestling with choices about his future that few American high school graduates face.

    Arthur graduated from Bullard High School last month with a 4.0 grade point average and a letter of admission to UC Davis, where he planned to study chemistry in autumn. But the Armenian-born teenager's life has been in limbo since his parents' asylum petition was rejected after a 16-year process.

    In April, federal immigration authorities detained Arthur's father, Ruben Mkoian (father and son spell their surname differently), preparing to deport him. His mother was allowed to remain free to care for Arthur and his 12-year-old, U.S.-born brother until the date of their departure.

    Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., heard about the family's case and, on the very day of Arthur's commencement, and just days before the family's scheduled deportation, she introduced a private bill in the U.S. Senate that led to Mkoian's release after two months in detention and could grant the family lawful permanent residence.

    Such bills rarely pass - an estimated 3 percent are approved - but as long as the legislation is pending, the removal order remains suspended, which gives Arthur and his family a temporary reprieve that could last a couple of years.

    Extremely long wait
    The family's case points to the cumbersome nature of the asylum process, which for this family took 16 years - almost an entire lifetime for the California-raised teenager - and raises questions about the wide variations from one judge to another in the rate at which asylum is granted.

    Arthur's story also draws attention to a long-stalled bill, dubbed the DREAM Act, which if passed would allow youngsters like him who were raised in the United States but lack legal immigration status to get a green card if they pursue college or military service.

    "I worked so hard to get into UC Davis, and I've been wanting to go there since I was in my sophomore year," said the soft-spoken Arthur, who is ineligible for financial aid or loans because his immigration status is uncertain. "It's saddening ... but (without loans) we don't have the money to support my going to college."

    Arthur's parents fled Armenia in 1991 after his father, a police sergeant, exposed corruption at the government office where he worked and, in what he believes was retaliation, the family's house was burned down and a shop they owned was ransacked.

    "The only way to survive was to leave the country," said Arthur's mother, Asmik Karapetian. "My husband came here because he thought it was going to be safe for us."

    Mkoian and his family settled in Fresno, where they had friends, and Mkoian applied for asylum. It was seven years before he was called for an interview, Karapetian said. His claim was denied, and he appealed all the way to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, which turned him down earlier this year, saying he had failed to establish a "well-founded fear of persecution" if he returned to Armenia and that the passage of time had made his case less compelling.

    Family thrives
    Meanwhile, Mkoian found work as a truck driver and Karapetian became a medical assistant. Their two sons grew and thrived.

    Arthur swam, played basketball on a church-sponsored team and volunteered at a local hospital. Most of all, he excelled in math and science.

    "I just kept up a really high standard for my grades through elementary and high school," he said. "My mom really pushed on that. ... It's thanks to her."

    Arthur's high school chemistry teacher, Christine Lindley, described him as a shy kid with a winning smile who worked incredibly hard. When she heard the family was facing deportation, she wrote a letter to Feinstein on Arthur's behalf.

    "You're taking a kid who's an (advanced placement), valedictorian-type kid, who's going to take his place in society, and you're kicking him out," said Lindley. "I realize the wheels of justice are like the mills of God, but 16 years is a really long time. ... Children need to get on with their lives."

    Experts in asylum law say that the Mkoian case moved more slowly than most, but that backlogs in the 1990s were common. Today, cases are handled more rapidly, according to David Leopold, national vice president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

    "It's devastating for a family who's been here close to 20 years to be told, 'Now it's time to go. We're not going to give you the protection you've asked for,' " he said. "These determinations should be made more quickly, because it's not fair to families."

    An uneven process
    In addition, says Leopold, the asylum process - which is designed to protect people who face persecution in their home countries - suffers from wide disparities in the rates at which different immigration courts grant asylum.

    On average, 38 percent of all asylum claims - and 42 percent of Armenian claims - between 2000 and 2004 were granted, according to, which tracks cases. But while one Miami judge granted asylum in just 3 percent of the 1,152 cases he heard, a New York judge offered asylum in 88 percent of his 1,478 cases. And while a Los Angeles judge granted asylum in just 7 percent of the 64 Armenian cases she heard, an immigration judge in San Francisco offered asylum in 94 percent of his 36 Armenian cases.

    "Those numbers raise some questions," said Jayne Fleming, an asylum expert who is pro bono counsel at the law firm of Reed Smith in Oakland. "My strongest recommendation would be to provide free legal representation to people applying for asylum. Second would be to have some sort of review system when you have vast disparities between judges with issues that look pretty much the same. Third, what kind of training is being provided (to judges) on country-specific issues?"

    Leopold commended Feinstein for introducing the private bill for Arthur's family, but urged her to take to take a leadership role in pushing for passage of the DREAM Act, a bill for which she was a co-sponsor.

    "The DREAM Act is a win-win for everybody," he said. "How can there be a rational argument against helping a child who has been raised here and has done well at school and has an opportunity to give back to this country? It's a chance for these kids to have a future, particularly kids who find themselves in circumstances they could not prevent."

    Advocates for tighter restrictions on immigration oppose the DREAM Act, calling it a stealth amnesty and saying the bill would unfairly reward illegal immigrants.

    With the DREAM Act still stuck in Congress and with prospects slim for passage of the private bill, Arthur Mkoyan has shelved his dreams of attending UC Davis and is preparing to enroll at Fresno City College in the fall.

    Mostly, Arthur is grateful that his father is no longer locked up in an immigration jail in Arizona.

    "I'm hopeful that someday we can get our green cards and apply for citizenship, but it's looking pretty tough right now."

    E-mail Tyche Hendricks at
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  2. #2
    Senior Member tencz57's Avatar
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    Jan 2008
    The Dream Act is out of the question . I feel for the kid and the Family . Looks like they've done everything and are respectful . Problem they where turned down with a weak arguement from the court . I got a feeling they paid taxes and did the right thing. Illegals run wild and are disrespectful and get beneifts and social care . This Family doesn't have the ACLU running to it and that tells me "They Should Stay" . They have Earned it .
    Nam vet 1967/1970 Skull & Bones can KMA .Bless our Brothers that gave their all ..It also gives me the right to Vote for Chuck Baldwin 2008 POTUS . NOW or never*

  3. #3
    Senior Member crazybird's Avatar
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    Mar 2006
    Joliet, Il
    It's devastating for a family who's been here close to 20 years to be told, 'Now it's time to go. We're not going to give you the protection you've asked for,' " he said. "These determinations should be made more quickly, because it's not fair to families."
    That is a long time to put people on hold who have gone about doing everything the right way. To me these are the areas where needed reform come in. Not for making illegals legal who never even attempted to do anything the right way.
    Join our efforts to Secure America's Borders and End Illegal Immigration by Joining ALIPAC's E-Mail Alerts network (CLICK HERE)

  4. #4
    Senior Member Richard's Avatar
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    Apr 2005
    I know Armenian Americans who tell me that since Mikoyan came here things have steadily improved to the point they now spend vacations in Armenia.
    I support enforcement and see its lack as bad for the 3rd World as well. Remittances are now mostly spent on consumption not production assets. Join our efforts to Secure America's Borders and End Illegal Immigration by Joining ALIPAC's E-Mail Alerts network (CLICK HERE)

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