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|For Ayded Reyes, learning she could stay in the U.S. is a dream come true.|
Ayded Reyes hasn't enjoyed many restful nights these past five months.
Reyes, who is California's top-ranked junior college cross country athlete, faced the possibility of being deported to Mexico after being detained last fall by U.S. Border Patrol agents. The stress, she said, "was really starting to get to me."
But last week, Reyes, who was 2 years old when she was brought to the U.S. illegally from Mexico by her parents, learned her deportation case has been dismissed by a federal judge.
"This is something I've been praying for, but was afraid would never happen," said Reyes, who attends Southwestern College in Chula Vista, near San Diego. The scholar-athlete, who has a 3.50 GPA and plans to become an obstetrician, was in the library studying last week when she got an email from her lawyer telling her that the case had been dismissed.
"I'm usually a shy, quiet person," she said, "but when I got the news I got so excited, I almost got kicked out of the library."
Reyes, whose coach, Duro Agbede, calls her "the most gifted athlete I've ever coached, an amazing student, and someone I'd be proud to call my daughter," has received dozens of scholarship offers from four-year universities, including Ivy League schools.
But until the judge's decision came last week, Reyes was unable to respond to any of the schools because she didn't know if she would be in the country.
"All I wanted to do was pick a four-year school and continue my life. I really had some difficult times, but I just tried to stay optimistic and strong," she said.
Reyes' nightmare began back in October when a San Diego Harbor Police officer approached the window of her boyfriend's parked car and asked the two for identification. Her boyfriend, a citizen, showed his I.D. and was released. But when Reyes showed her college I.D., the officer asked if she had a state I.D. or a Social Security card. She said no.
Police subsequently contacted immigration authorities and she was arrested, taken away in a Border Patrol van and jailed for five days.
In late December, Reyes told espnW: "If they make me go back, I will be lost."
Reyes, who has no memory of Mexico and has four younger siblings who were born here and are legal U.S. citizens, nervously awaited her deportation hearing, which was scheduled for Thursday.
"I tried to just concentrate on the things I can control: academics and athletics," Reyes said. "But I was so scared they would send me back to Mexico, a country I don't even know or remember. I was so scared that they were going to take everything away from me, all that I have worked for."
Reyes had a lot of people in her corner. In addition to professors and other officials at her school, she also got support from Rep. Bob Filner (D-Calif.), who contacted officials of both Border Patrol and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The congressman, who was first contacted by Agbede, subsequently introduced a private bill for Reyes, HR3281.
The bill didn't pass, but Reyes' attorney, Jacob Sapochnick, said: "It didn't hurt to have a U.S. congressman supporting her."
Sapochnick asked Reyes to collect all the information she could about her accomplishments and contributions to her community: her academic record, award-winning athletic career and community volunteer work with sick children and the elderly. He also asked her to get letters from professors and others in the community vouching for her character.
Sapochnick then contacted the chief counsel at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in San Diego County, which would have prosecuted the case, and asked if they would agree to file a motion to a federal judge requesting a dismissal and thus canceling the hearing. The prosecutors agreed, a joint motion was filed, and the judge dismissed her case.
Lauren Mack, a spokeswoman for ICE, said: "Because Ms. Reyes had no previous criminal history, and did not fall into ICE's enforcement priorities, her immigration case was administratively closed."
Sapochnick, who represented Reyes pro bono after learning of her situation, said: "This is a major victory as we did it without a trial. I met several times with ICE attorneys, and they were receptive to our approach. I'm hoping more attorneys take this approach nationwide, to try to do this before the hearing, because it saves taxpayers a lot of money."
The dismissal doesn't make Reyes a legal citizen, Sapochnick said, but it puts her back to where she was before.
"The key here is that if she is ever detained again, they will see a record that she has a terminated case and they will not hold her," he said. "In the future, if she marries her boyfriend or if the federal DREAM Act passes, I could help her get a green card."
The primary goal of the DREAM Act ("Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors") is to provide a way for people like Reyes who came to the U.S. illegally as children to establish legal residency. They would have to be younger than 35, have gone to a U.S. high school and have displayed "good moral character."
The Senate version of the bill (S. 952) had hearings in June 2011, but the legislation is in limbo. The House version (H.R. 1842) was sent in June to the Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement for further study.
But even without the DREAM act's passage, an increasing number of people like Reyes are being released because of prosecutorial discretion, which, Sapochnick said, gives consideration to an illegal immigrant who has had a long-term presence in the U.S., has an immediate family member who is a U.S. citizen, and/or has compelling ties to the U.S. or is a person who has made significant contributions to his or her community.
"Despite what you may have read about there being more deportations under the Obama Administration than under George W. Bush, the fact is prosecutorial discretion was created under Obama's watch. They are putting their focus on real criminals now, not people like Ayded, who are contributing members of our society," Sapochnick said.
Reyes is in the middle of track season and competing in three events: steeplechase, 5K and 10K. She had never run the steeplechase before, but tried it during practice. Then in a meet that same week, she entered the event and came in third -- 10 seconds behind the state's top steeplechase runner.
"I know I could have gone faster, I was pacing myself because it's a new event for me and I didn't want to get injured," she said. "I know I can win this event."
Reyes has rebooted her search for a four-year school and hopes to continue her outstanding athletic and academic careers with the goal of medical school.
"Whichever school I end up choosing, and I have to make this decision in the next few weeks, I want to run both indoor and outdoor track and cross country," said Reyes, who holds several school records. "I hope to break more records. I feel a new sense of energy and purpose. Right now I'm just really excited about the state tournament, which is coming up in May."
Reyes said she is considering many schools but is leaning toward one close to her San Diego home -- perhaps the University of California Santa Barbara or the University of California Riverside, both of which have offered her scholarships.
Her two biggest dreams remain the same: become an obstetrician and an American citizen.
"This is my country, this is the only country I have ever known, and I love it so much," she said. "I am so grateful for my attorney and my teachers and the congressman and everyone who supported me.
"There are so many people in this country who came here with their parents when they were little who have achieved as much as I have but who are still deported. I consider myself a very lucky person, very blessed. I have a strong belief in God. I do believe God had a hand in all of this. I worried so much, but my prayers were answered. Now I'm peaceful. God bless America."