Blanca Catt -- smuggled into the U.S. as a toddler, taken from abusive parents and adopted -- faces deportation
Blanca Catt -- smuggled into the U.S. as a toddler, taken from abusive parents and adopted -- faces deportationShane Dixon Kavanaugh
Blanca Catt, who at 19 still lives at home, wants to join the military or go to college like many in her Columbia Christian School graduating class. Instead she lives in fear she'll be deported.
"I'm petrified," Catt says, sitting next to her mother in the conference room of her attorney in downtown Portland on Monday afternoon. "I don't know what's going to happen."
Catt, born in Mexico and smuggled into the U.S. as a toddler, was seized from abusive parents by the state of Oregon and placed into foster care with the Catts when she was 5 years old. The Catts adopted her three years later and said caseworkers told them their daughter automatically became a U.S. citizen.
That was not true.
When Blanca tried to apply for a driver's permit at 16, she learned for the first time that crucial paperwork had never been filed to make her a legal resident. She's been in limbo ever since, unable to apply for jobs or loans, or even fly to Disneyland with her graduating class.
Wearing patent leather heels and blue jeans and sipping a caramel frappuccino from Starbucks, Catt says she can't imagine returning to Mexico. She doesn't speak Spanish. She doesn't know any one there.
But she has good reason to have nightmares because a Multnomah County judge just tossed out her suit against the Oregon Department of Human Services, ruling that she did not file her suit in time.
"The state's not really denying that DHS messed up," said Mark Kramer, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of Catt and her mother. "The state's position is that because Blanca and Lisa didn't bring suit until October, 2009, it's too late."
But Oregon's Department of Justice also says its responsibility for Blanca ended the day the Catts finalized her adoption, regardless of whether her legal status had been resolved at that time.
"There's no statute that requires DHS to finalize the citizenship of children in their custody," said Kate Medema, an Oregon Department of Justice spokeswoman.
Ironically, if the Catts had gone to Mexico to adopt Blanca, she would have automatically become a U.S. citizen when she entered the country thanks to the Child Citizenship Act of 2000.
However, that federal law does not apply to anyone entering the country illegally.
Now Catt is caught in a bind. Since she has turned 19, she faces tough penalties for being in the country illegally. If she is deported, she would have to wait 10 years to apply for re-entry. Lisa Catt, Blanca's mother, is frustrated that state workers never completed the paperwork and then failed to tell Blanca's adoptive family of the omission.
"I was just in shock at first," she said. "I just had no idea how complicated the process would be or how long it would take.
Legal back-and-forth aside, last week's ruling has left Catt with few options. She's subject to detention and deportation by the INS.
"I can't go back," she says. "I wouldn't survive." Beneath the conference room table where she sits her legs begin to shake. Next to her, her mother stares blankly and sighs. Kramer, her lawyer stands up and brings her a box of tissues.
Once Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Pro Tem Charles Corrigan signs off on his ruling, which should be sometime this week, Catt and her mother have up to 30 days to appeal.
Meanwhile, they've worked with an immigration attorney to apply for a U visa, which grants temporary legal status and work eligibility for immigrants who have been crime victims. Because Catt had been abused by her biological mother she could qualify.
A U visa would allow Catt to apply for permanent residence status after three years and citizenship after another five. But only 10,000 people per fiscal year can qualify for a U visa. The earliest Catt could receive one would be in October.
She said she can scrape together a little money by baby-sitting or doing chores around the house. She also sometimes helps her father with painting houses. Because she doesn't have an ID, she can't drive, she can't fly, she can't take a bus or a train. She's nearly entirely dependent on her family.
She turns 20 in three months. "For me, one of the hardest things is that Blanca hasn't been able to grow up or do those teenage things" said Lisa Catt. "It's not an option for her to live independently."
"Purgatory would be an apt description," said Kramer. "She's neither above ground, nor below ground. She can't move on with her life. She's stuck." Catt can remain hopeful, however. At least for now.
"But it's hard to stay that way," she says.