Lidiane Carmo, a 15 year-old undocumented immigrant from Brazil, learned on Tuesday, January 31 that a massive auto accident on Florida’s Interstate 75 had killed her entire immediate family. The family was headed home to Georgia after a conference in Orlando, Florida when the accident occurred on January 29. A brush fire allegedly caused such severe smoke and smog that drivers on the highway near Gainesville were blinded. In all, eleven people died and eighteen more, including Carmo, were injured. The girl’s parents, 17 year-old sister, uncle, and uncle’s girlfriend lost their lives in the crash.
Concerns immediately arose that, with no immediate family and no legal immigration status, the government would move to deport Carmo to Brazil. A spokeperson for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued a statement dispelling any rumors of any intent to deport her, saying that “reports of her facing deportation are completely false.”
Carmo’s family came to the United States from Brazil on nonimmigrant visas twelve years ago, when she was a toddler. They remained after their visas expired, and have resided here ever since. According to relatives, the family wanted to obtain legal immigration status, but no laws allowed them to do so. Friends and relatives describe Carmo as being a “regular American girl” who just “wasn’t born here.” She can barely speak Portuguese and has little knowledge of Brazil, according to a pastor at her church in Marietta, Georgia. Members of her church have expressed readiness to fight to help her gain citizenship, which may be possible through a special status granted to juveniles under the immigration laws.
ICE specifically cited the Obama administration’s policy, announced last year, of using discretion in pursuing removal cases, focusing on violent criminals and threats to national security. A memorandum dated June 17, 2011 from ICE Director John Morton outlines positive and negative factors to consider in deciding whether to pursue removal of a particular person. People who are low on the list of priorities may never face a deportation action. This gives people like Carmo an opportunity to look at options for obtaining legal status.
It is important to note that ICE’s stated decision not to deport Carmo does not give her any particular legal status or rights. She remains an undocumented immigrant, with all of the legal baggage that carries in various parts of the country. She has extensive support from her community, and numerous politicians and public figures, including the governor of Florida, have made statements of support. She may be able to obtain status as a Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ). A state court must declare her a dependent, or ward, of the court and find that she cannot be reunited with a parent. The court must also find that it is not in her best interest to be returned to her home country or last country of residence. SIJ status would allow her to obtain a green card and eventually citizenship in the U.S.
The New York immigration lawyers at Samuel C. Berger, P.C. help immigrants seeking visas to come to, or remain in, the United States. To schedule a consultation with one of our skilled attorneys today, contact us online or at (212) 380-8117.
Memorandum from ICE Director John Morton (PDF), June 17, 2011, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
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Immigration Officials Allow Man on Tourist Visa to Stay in New York to Care for His Ailing Partner, New York & New Jersey Immigration Lawyer Blog, February 16, 2012
Benefactor Pays Undocumented New York College Student’s Tuition Bill After Reading About Her in the Newspaper, New York & New Jersey Immigration Lawyer Blog, January 19, 2012
Sister of New Jersey Cancer Patient Granted Visa to Try to Save Her Life, New York & New Jersey Immigration Lawyer Blog, December 14, 2011
Photo credit: ‘Araucaria from Brasil’ by Piotr Menducki on stock.xchng.