Blanca Catt, a Portland teen who came to the U.S. as a toddler, no longer faces deportation

Relates to:
Date: 2010-08-18
Source: Oregon Live

Blanca Catt -- the Portland teen who was at risk of being deported even though she was adopted by American parents -- has learned she's on the fast track to legally live, work and go to college in the United States.

Last week, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services sent the 19-year-old a letter telling her that she's on the waiting list to get a coveted U visa. All 10,000 visas that the government can issue annually have already been given out this fiscal year, but the letter told Catt that she's on the waiting list for next fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1. She can expect to get her visa in less than two months.

Catt learned the news Tuesday, when she received a call from her immigration attorney, Jennifer Rotman.

"I cried when Jennifer told me," Catt said Wednesday. "I felt so relieved and so happy. It's just a weight off my shoulders."

Catt immediately posted the news to her Facebook page and texted friends. She also called her military recruiter. She's been thinking about joining the Navy, but is unsure if the U visa will clear the way for her to do so.

Catt was eligible for the U visa because she was a crime victim as a child. Catt was born in Mexico, was brought into the U.S. as a toddler and seized from abusive parents by state child-welfare workers. She was placed in foster care with American foster parents -- the Catts -- when she was 5. She was adopted when she was 8, and her parents say caseworkers told them their daughter automatically became a U.S. citizen because of the adoption.

They eventually learned that wasn't true -- the first inkling of trouble began when Catt was 16 and tried to get her driver's permit. Three years later, it looks like the end of their long fight may be in sight.

Catt's civil attorney, Mark Kramer, said the U visa is "good news."

The downside, Kramer said, is that she isn't eligible for college financial aid. She'll probably need to work to earn money to pay for school, with the ultimate goal of becoming a dental hygienist.

And the visa provides Catt -- who has been living in limbo, unable to hold down a job or go to college -- with only temporary sanctuary. It lasts for up to four years.

But in three years, Catt will be allowed to apply for permanent residence status. In eight years, she will be able to pursue citizenship.

Kramer said it looks as if Catt's civil suit against Oregon's Department of Human Resources may soon be dead. Kramer filed a $1 million suit last October in Multnomah County Circuit Court, claiming DHS employees misled her into thinking she was a citizen and also failed to tell Catt and her mother that they didn't file residency paperwork with immigration officials.

Last month, a judge announced plans to dismiss the suit, saying too much time had passed between the time Catt was allegedly wronged and when she filed the suit. Kramer says he might appeal.

Catt saw a groundswell of support after The Oregonian published a story in early August about that ruling, and an editorial appeared titled "Rescue the Teen Without a Country." Catt and her mother also talked about her circumstances in a video posted on The Oregonian's website. Kramer said he got calls from U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden's office and U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer's office asking how they could help. The public also wrote letters and made calls, urging the government to do something for Catt.

But Rotman, Catt's immigration attorney, said U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services had already decided to put Catt on the U-visa waiting list. Nonetheless, the support "was really nice for Blanca, because she felt so alone."

Catt is looking forward to getting on with her life.

"I'm so excited to get a job, and to get my (driver's) license," Catt said, "to finally grow up because I didn't get that opportunity as a young teenager."

-- Aimee Green


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