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Argentine adoptee is spared deportation


Staff Columnist - Pioneer Press

Published: Friday, April 20, 2001

Argentine adoptee is spared deportation



Miracles don't just happen on 34th Street, or on a sports field, or in a

hospital or a church. They sometimes happen inside a nondescript federal

immigration detention center in the middle of Bloomington, Minn.

In a stunning turnabout that a federal immigration judge characterized as

``rather unprecedented,'' local U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service

officials on Thursday halted deportation proceedings against a 25-year-old

Argentine-born woman who was illegally adopted as an infant by an American

couple and raised in this country. Marisa Patricia Carlson faced imminent

deportation after she was caught trying to buy groceries with a forged check at

a Rainbow Foods store in Maplewood early last year, her second felony in two


Nonviolent felonies committed by noncitizens were included among a variety of

deportable offenses under a controversial retooling of federal immigration laws

in 1996.

On Thursday, however, INS officials agreed not to deport Carlson if she

successfully undergoes long-term drug treatment and remains crime-free,

according to INS officials.``This is unbelievable,'' Carlson said after

learning of the decision. ``It's all up to me now to change. I know this is my

last chance.'' Carlson, who blames a crack cocaine addiction for much of her

criminal behavior, had received a one-time deportation reprieve two years ago

from Immigration Judge Joseph Dierkes after she committed her first felony by

trying to buy merchandise at the Mall of America with a stolen credit card. She

was warned she would be deported if she reoffended. Carlson has served state

prison and jail time for both offenses.

Twenty-five years ago, Gary Carlson, now a real estate agent in Apple Valley,

paid a midwife $300 for the infant girl, partly out of a desire to adopt a

second child and also out of fear that the orphan girl would get swept up by a

rising tide of political unrest in Argentina.``I'm not against her paying for

her crimes,'' Gary Carlson told me in a column published April 2 in the Pioneer

Press. ``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


Carlson, a single mother who transferred guardianship of her 4-year old

daughter to her adoptive mother in Michigan, seemed resigned to her fate. But

her plight struck a mixed chord with many readers.Parishioners at the Church of

the Risen Savior in Burnsville mounted a letter-writing campaign and expressed

their concerns over the case to INS district director Curtis Aljets, U.S. Sens.

Paul Wellstone and Mark Dayton and other office-holders.

In the end, the unlikely miracle worker turned out to be the same entity that

launched deportation proceedings against her. Although Marisa Carlson's second

felony conviction erased any further judicial reprieve, Congress allows INS

officials discretion on a case-by-case basis. Such discretions occur before

proceedings are conducted, which makes Marisa's 11th-hour reprieve a

rarity.``I'm speechless,'' said Karen Ellingson, a veteran immigration lawyer

and executive director of the Immigrant Law Center in St. Paul who appeared

with Carlson. ``This is virtually unheard of, given her circumstance.''

Aljets received 75 letters as well as a petition signed by 20 Twin Cities

residents.``I could have removed her and just let it be,'' Aljets said. ``But

we felt that she had not been given a fair chance to redeem herself and get

into a drug treatment program. We also acknowledged that she wasn't a party to

the circumstances of how she was brought to this country.

``She's still not home free,'' Aljets stressed. ``We've just given her a second

chance to turn her life around.'' Carlson will remain in INS custody until she

is placed in a treatment facility within two weeks.Carlson, her face smeared

with tears and her hands cuffed in front of her, tried to hug her father, her

fiance and other supporters after the hearing. ``This is like a miracle from

heaven,'' her father said. ``It's all up to her now.''

2001 Apr 20