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With options spent, woman's deportation nearly certain


Mon, Sep. 01, 2003

With options spent, woman's deportation nearly certain


Pioneer Press Columnist

For Marisa Carlson, the coming goodbye is a question of when, not if, this time


Illegally adopted in Argentina when she was a week old and brought here, the

28-year-old woman's chaotic life since her teen years has been a recurring saga

of substance abuse and relapses followed by criminal conduct to support her

drug habit.

Spared deportation two years ago following a check forgery conviction, Carlson

is in INS lockup again after another felony case. She has a U.S.-born daughter,

no known family in Argentina and she doesn't speak Spanish.

Such is now the fate for a troubled woman who never got to know her native land

and who has all but forfeited the privilege to stay in the one she does. Her

last hope is that Argentina doesn't cry for her anytime soon, if at all.

"Her deportation, this time, is about 100 percent guaranteed,'' said Karen

Ellingson, a West St. Paul-based immigration law expert and attorney.

"I don't want to go,'' says Marisa Carlson, who has filed an appeal that is

highly unlikely to succeed. "I don't know what will happen if I am sent back.''

That plea rings tiresome and hollow to those who have heard it before and

believe she has no one except herself to blame.

One of them is the former overseas construction engineer from Lakeville who

first saw tiny Marisa inside a mountain shack outside Buenos Aires, wrapped in

a diaper made of strips of dirty rags. Gary Carlson paid a midwife $300 for the

child. He did it out of a need to protect the newborn from the turbulent times

rocking the South American country in the mid-1970s.

"Perhaps it may be what she needs,'' said Gary Carlson, now a real estate

agent. "I'm conflicted. But I can't go through this again. It's going to kill


Deportation is just the latest in a series of lifelong problems. Because Marisa

Carlson is addicted to cocaine, her 6-year-old daughter is living with Marisa's

adoptive mother in Michigan. In 1998, Marisa Carlson was caught trying to buy

merchandise with a stolen credit card at the Mall of America. The INS placed a

hold on her. But a lawyer retained by her father was able to get the felony

charges reduced and successfully requested a cancellation of removal, a

clemency handed out to just about 4,000 persons annually in the U.S.

The judge warned her she would be deported if she got in trouble again.

Carlson stayed clean until January of 2000, when she was grabbed at a Maplewood

supermarket trying to buy groceries with a forged check. The INS once again

moved to deport her. Her father once again launched an 11th-hour appeal.

This newspaper profiled her case in the spring of 2001, a few months after she

violated probation on the forgery case and was caught riding in a stolen car

with a boyfriend. She received a suspended 21-month sentence from a Ramsey

County judge.

A week later, the INS incredibly dismissed the hold on her on the condition

that Carlson immediately enter an extensive drug rehabilitation program.

"That is an extremely, extremely rare thing for the INS to do,'' agrees

Ellingson. "I can't emphasize enough how rare that is.''

On Nov. 10, 2001, Carlson was picked up at the Widmer's Supermarket in St. Paul

after trying to buy food with a stolen check. Another county judge suspended a

15-month jail term in May of 2002 on the condition that Carlson continue to do

well in drug rehab.

An arrest warrant was issued last summer after Carlson failed to keep in

contact with her probation officer and fled a halfway house. The sentence was

executed last October after Carlson was picked up following a routine traffic

stop. The INS took her into custody after she completed her jail term in July.

Marisa Carlson admits to drug dependency and says she is being treated for a

bipolar disorder at the detention facility in Elk River.

She blames some of her problems on her adoptive parents' divorce and feelings

of low self-esteem while growing up in a Michigan resort community where kids

taunted her because of her dark skin. She also claims that a boy sexually

assaulted her when she was a teen.

As sympathetic a figure as she might be to some, she may have run out of


Ellingson said Marisa's very slim chance of staying in this country might

depend on how long the removal process takes after the appeal is decided.

If it lasts six months or longer while Marisa remains in INS custody, she could

petition a federal district judge to release her outright.

"I don't want to sound coldhearted, but there are many, many people who have

committed one offense and been deported,'' said Ellingson. "She's received more

than her share of breaks.''

A sad tale

Highlights and lowlights of Marisa Patricia Carlson's life:

Born: July 15th, 1975, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Entered USA: Aug. 24, 1976 ( after year in South Africa)

Citizen status: Permanent resident (could not be made citizen because of

illegal adoption)

Criminal history:

Nov. 04, 1997: Gross misdemeanor theft. Result: Suspended one-year sentence

Dec. 01, 1998 and Dec. 11, 1998: Gross misdemeanor theft and credit card fraud:

Result: served 90 days in jail.

April 1, 1999: INS places hold on Carlson. She receives cancellation of removal

waiver four months later, allowing her to stay here.

Nov. 16, 2000: Check forgery. Result: suspended one-year sentence. Serves 32

days in jail.

April 26, 2001: INS places a second hold, which is withdrawn a few weeks later.

She is legally adopted later that year, although INS does not recognize

adoptions after age of 16, for removal purposes.

May 11, 2001: Stolen car conviction. Result: Suspended 21-month sentence.

Feb. 11, 2002: Check forgery: Result: Suspended 15-month sentence.

Summer of 2002: Fails to report to probation officer and leaves halfway house.

Result: Arrest warrant issued.

Sept. 30, 2002: Arrested after car driven by current boyfriend is pulled over

for broken windshield: Result: Prison term by Ramsey County Judge Salvador

Rosas is executed.

July 7, 2003: INS takes her into custody after term completion.

Aug. 14th: Judge grants INS request for Carlson's deportation to Argentina.

Aug. 15; Carlson files appeal, citing daughter, time here, and lack of family

and knowledge about native country.

Sources: INS, Justice Department and Ramsey County documents.

2003 Sep 1