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The Coming Goodbye


St. Paul Pioneer Press (MN) - April 2, 2001

The Coming Goodbye

Illegally adopted in Argentina 25 years ago, two-time felon Marisa Carlson faces deportation to a country whose language she does not know.

Ruben Rosario

The first time Gary Carlson saw her, Marisa Patricia Carlson was wrapped in a

ball of rags on a bed inside a midwife's home in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The

4-day-old newborn, wearing another rag for a diaper, weighed barely 5 pounds.

``She was so small and tiny that she fit easily in the palm of my hand,'' the

real estate agent from Lakeville recalls. ``We didn't know what would happen to

her if we left her there.''

The year was 1975. Carlson, then a civil engineer working in Argentina for an

Iowa-based banking firm, could taste the unrest in that country's largest city.

A slumping economy and political instability would herald a decade-long series

of violent military coups and a torrent of murders, human atrocities and

disappearances that would claim tens of thousands of lives.

Carlson and his wife, Nancy, already the adoptive parents of a 3-year-old

Argentine boy named Cristian, desperately wanted a girl. A friend said that

could be arranged, but it wouldn't be legal because the American couple was

days away from leaving the country. Gary Carlson looked down again at the

infant, born to unknown parents. He counted out 2 million pesos -- $300 U.S. --

handed the money to the woman and later obtained a visitor's visa and green

card to bring and keep the girl here.

A quarter-century later, Marisa Carlson, now the single mother of a 4-year-old

daughter, expects to return to Argentina. But it won't be by choice. A two-time

convicted felon struggling with substance abuse problems, the 25-year-old woman

will almost certainly be deported after a recent offense.

``I'm scared to death,'' Marisa Carlson says of her predicament. ``I've been

told that they will put me on a plane, and that once I land there, that's it.

I'm on my own.''

Once again, Gary Carlson is racing against time on his adopted daughter's

behalf, mounting a last-ditch -- and some say futile -- effort to prevent the


``I'm not against her paying for her crimes,'' Gary Carlson says. ``But this

seems unfair. She was raised here. She can't speak a word of Spanish. She has

no one in Argentina. I may never see her again if this happens.''

Marisa Carlson's plight has become more of a common occurrence since 1996, when

laws governing crimes committed by permanent residents were expanded to include

nonviolent felonies and other offenses. Since that year, the local office of

the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service has moved to apprehend and

deport 5,077 persons with criminal records, a 357 percent increase from the

1,421 the office processed between 1990 and 1995. ...

...She was arrested in 1998 at the Mall of America for trying to buy $319.96 in in merchandise with a stolen credit card. She pleaded guilty to the felony charge and was near the end of serving an an eight-month prison term when she learned to her surprise that the INS had placed a hold on her......

..The sentence was stayed, however, and Marisa was placed on five years' probation.

...13, 2000, at the Rainbow Foods at 2501 White Bear Ave. in Maplewood after trying to buy $373.24 worth of groceries with a forged check.


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2001 Apr 2