JEFFERSON CITY — Any hour, any day, immigration officials could determine the fate of the Gonzalez family, who after 14 years of living in the United States is in the thick of deportation proceedings.
The family, along with more than 150 supporters, marched to Gov. Matt Blunt’s office Wednesday afternoon to seek his support regarding their immigration status.
The Gonzalez family came to the United States from Costa Rica in 1991 on a six-month visitors visa and have lived in the country ever since. In 2002, Marvin Gonzalez was fired from his job as a messenger in then-Gov. Bob Holden’s office when an anonymous caller identified him as undocumented immigrant. Their case has been under the jurisdiction of national immigration services ever since.
Now the family’s fate is in the hands of the U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals, which could rule on the case at any time. Marie Gonzalez, daughter of Marvin and Marina Gonzalez, said the family is preparing for a worst-case scenario: if the board decides they cannot stay in the United States, they will have 30 days to leave the country.
The Gonzalez Group, which consists primarily of the Gonzalez’s fellow parishioners from the Sacred Heart Immaculate Conception Church in Jefferson City, formed to help the family avoid deportation. The group has been campaigning for local, statewide and national support and planned Wednesday’s march.
Ed Stroesser, whose son Daniel graduated in the same class as Marie, is one of the informal leaders of the group’s efforts to keep the family from being deported.
“We were letting the attorney do it because there wasn’t anything we could do as normal citizens,” Stroesser said. “Now, the attorney can’t do it, so we’ve really unleashed a huge e-mail, letter writing and phone call campaign to representatives and senators.”
The group has obtained more than 2,800 signatures in support of the family. On Monday night, Jefferson City Council unanimously passed a resolution granting the Gonzalezes the city’s official backing and support. The group also contacted U.S. Rep. Ike Skelton and U.S. Senators Kit Bond and Jim Talent about writing letters to the Department of Homeland Security.
Despite widespread local support, the response from Missouri’s federal representatives has been limited. Both Talent and Skelton have written letters to the Department of Homeland Security requesting a deferral, or postponement, in the Gonzalezes’ case proceedings. Bond also sent a letter, but instead of asking for a deferral, he requested the department spend more time reviewing the case.
Now the Gonzalez Group is pushing for the legislators to sponsor a private bill.
When all other administrative or legal avenues have been exhausted, private bills provide a means for individuals to resolve a variety of legal issues, including immigration problems. Private bills must be sponsored by one or more federal legislators, passed by Congress and signed by the president. Once signed, the bill becomes a private law. A private bill could grant the Gonzalez family legal status, but Talent, Bond or Skelton has not offered to sponsor a private bill.
“Typically, private bills are for those with very special circumstances — someone who has helped out the U.S. with the war against terrorism and whose life would be in danger upon returning to their original country of origin,” said Rich Chrismer, a spokesman for Talent.
Marie Gonzalez said she doesn’t expect Missouri’s members of Congress to propose such a bill and that her family will seek sponsors from other states.
Ben Mook, the Gonzalez’s attorney, said the Homeland Security crackdown on immigration is related to counter-terrorism efforts.
“Ever since Sept. 11, there has been a tightening on immigration laws, and ever since this tightening, politicians have been issuing less private bills,” Mook said. “From the politicians I’ve spoken with, the reason behind that is due to Sept. 11, but that answer isn’t adequate here. The point of a private bill is to deal with special circumstances. Obviously, this family is not a Sept. 11 type risk.”
The Gonzalez family has been active in community life for years, said friends and supporters.
“If you’d make a list of everything an American family needs to be, they’d meet every point,” said David Gode, a family friend for 10 years and a tutor to Marie Gonzalez. “If they could stay, it would be a win for Jefferson City and a loss for Costa Rica.”