MILLEDGEVILLE -- Lauren Bell calls America home.
Shes lived a decade in Georgia, yet hasnt picked up a Southern drawl. But the British accent she brought over as an 11-year-old is gone -- except for when she drops the occasional foreign-sounding word on friends.
Bell, a junior at Georgia College & State University, and her family came from Great Britain in 2003 when her father accepted a job in Sparta. They settled in the quiet antebellum town of Madison, bought a house and started paying taxes.
Now, Bell faces deportation in January, when she turns 21 and will no longer be considered a dependent. She has a few relatives overseas, but her parents and younger sister, 17-year-old Emily, are here.
The family applied for a green card, which grants permanent residence, for Lauren in 2004, but her father says immigration officials rejected it in its final stages. Apparently they did not care for the wording in his employers original help wanted ad.
Im worried, Laurens father, Kevin Bell, said. I want to try to do something about at least getting this changed for Laurens sake, but also Emilys. Shes been here since the age of 7. All their friends are here. This is their home. Its all our home. We all want to stay.
The Bells have launched a website, letlaurenstay.com, that includes a link to a petition. Theyve also enlisted the help of Georgias U.S. senators, Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss.
Lauren describes her possible deportation as immoral, especially considering President Obamas decision this year to stop deporting illegal minor aliens who meet criteria of the so-called DREAM Act. Various forms of the legislation give special consideration -- even fast-tracking citizenship in some versions -- to illegal aliens who complete at least two years of college.
Its extremely frustrating when you know youve done everything right, everything in your power to make sure we all came here legally, her father said. Weve done nothing wrong. It seems were being punished for something thats completely beyond our control.
Lauren, who responded to questions by e-mail between an illness and studying for tests in statistics and economics, said she is absolutely outraged by the oversight in the presidents decision.
How on Earth there could have been that much of an oversight in the legislation is just beyond me, she said. Its extremely unfair and unjust to punish those that were brought here legally as children by their parents and then deny them the right to stay simply because they turn the age of 21, yet give the green light, so to speak, to those that were brought here illegally.
We want to stay
In 2003, Kevin Bell interviewed in London with SGD North America in Sparta. He got the job in research and development for the company, which makes glass bottles for perfume and pharmaceuticals. With an H-4 work visa, he rented a house in Madison, a nice place to live, then bought a home.
As dependents, his wife, Karen, and daughters, Lauren and Emily, are not allowed to hold jobs. The company filed an application for green cards for the next year.
Lauren recalls that moving to a new school in a new country was a little terrifying, but she adjusted.
After a little while of living in the U.S. and having made those new friends, I just felt at home. Everything just kind of fell into place and became normal to me. In fact, after having lived here in the U.S. for a while, I used to hate going back to England for small vacations.
Everything that had once been normal to me became extremely foreign, and all I wanted to do was return home to the U.S. Over the years, my memories of England have become extremely faint, almost to the point where it almost just seems like a dream, like I never really lived there at all.
The green card application appeared to be advancing without problem until the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service pulled it in its final stages, Kevin Bell said.
Where the rubber stamp is approved or denied, somebody went, No, even after five years, he said. Unfortunately, it was denied on a technicality. They said they were unhappy with the original wording of the advertisement for the position. So the company appealed.
The appeal is pending.
In the meantime, the Bells are doing all they can to bring attention to Laurens possible deportation. She says the student body at Georgia College is mostly unaware of her situation, but Madison residents, especially her former classmates, are rallying to her cause.
Had she been brought over here illegally under the new legislation (Dream Act) that has just been put in place, she would have been fine. said Kevin Bell.
The Bells have reached out to U.S. Sens. Chambliss and Isakson. A spokesman for Chambliss said his office does not comment on requests from constituents, but Chambliss wrote in a letter to Bell that he would help ensure that your case is given every possible consideration. Bell received a letter a week ago from Isaksons office that indicated an Isakson aide had inquired about the case.
In an e-mailed response to the inquiry, an immigration service officer said the Bells applications remain denied and called the case complex to say the least.
Kevin Bell says lawyers have told the family the only way Lauren could stay is to get an F-1 international students visa.
Theres no guarantee that would even be granted, he said. Thats normally for students who travel from their home overseas, then travel back overseas. Obviously, thats not the case over here.
Even if that visa is granted, Lauren, a marketing major, would have to pay out-of-state tuition of about $27,000 a year. For a one-income family, paying in-state tuition, which runs about $6,000 to $8,000, is difficult enough.
In the time weve been here since 2003, my wife and my two daughters have been unable to work. Its been a real struggle. Laurens almost 21, and shes not had any part-time jobs to help pay the college fees and all the rest of it, Kevin Bell said.
We are residents of Georgia, have been since 2003, paying taxes. (We) bought a house. We have no intention of going back and just want to live a normal life and stay here.
Lauren says going back to Great Britain would be devastating to her hopes for a normal life.
I feel like having to move back to the U.K. would bring a halt to everything. Like many others my age, I am trying to get through college and start a life of my own for myself, maybe even get married and start a family here someday. But now that this is happening, that feels a lot less likely to happen than it once seemed.
Being forced to leave would be a million times worse for her younger sister, Lauren said.
She has lived in the U.S. for practically her whole life. I dont believe she has any actual memories of having lived in the U.K. at all, She only knows what she has seen from having gone back to visit.
Her father is still hopeful the appeal will be successful and the family will get their green cards before Laurens birthday.
That way all the problems disappear.
To contact writer Rodney Manley, call 744-4623.