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California and the West | MIKE DOWNEY

He Wants to Serve His New Country, if It Will Let Him

July 23, 1999|MIKE DOWNEY

So, Oleta Hansen goes to a courtroom Tuesday, and her grandson goes along. He is 17. He has just graduated from a high school in Garden Grove. He's been living in that Orange County town with his grandparents for more than a year, ever since his mother died in Canada from a drug overdose.

The boy wants to join the U.S. Army, and the Army apparently wants him.

There is a catch, though.

The boy is not a U.S. citizen. He did spend some of his childhood in Long Beach, but his mother was a Canadian and gave birth to him there, so so is he.

His father?

"Unknown," says the boy.

He is an orphan. His remaining relatives live in the United States. He has no Canadian kin. Yet he must go back there to live, unless something happens before his temporary visa expires on Aug. 13.

Oleta Hansen has a solution. A judge could declare her grandson a dependent of the court. Immigration could then give him a green card. And the boy could then march straight to the Army.

But no, says the judge, Juvenile Court Referee Gary G. Bischoff.

So, Oleta Hansen now sits crying, two days later, running out of time and options. Her grandson's diploma from Lake High is on a table in front of her. There is also a color photo of his mother, her daughter.

If the judge would only understand . . .

"He said his courtroom was for abused children," she says, sobbing, her grandson seated by her side. "I suppose if I went over there and hit him, he would be taken care of by the court."

*

Somewhere there must be someone--an elected official, an authority figure, someone--who can keep a 17-year-old boy from going "home" to Canada, to nobody.

Family matters do get messy, but this one doesn't seem too complicated.

"It's kind of scary," says Guy Taylor, the boy in question.

"I'm only 17. I don't have any family. I don't have anywhere to start if I go back. I want to go to the U.S. Army so I can serve the country. It's been a dream of mine for a long time."

He has visited a recruiter. He has taken pre-enlistment testing. A staff sergeant from Westminster says the Army could take Guy almost immediately, as soon as he gets a green card. The Army by being his employer could qualify Guy for a green card, but Guy can't JOIN the Army until he gets a green card.

That's some catch, that catch.

The question is, is Guy a man or is Guy a boy?

He was 16 when his mother died. A court in Canada named his grandmother his legal guardian. But the Immigration and Naturalization Service objected when Oleta Hansen wanted Guy to live permanently in Garden Grove, saying he was too old to be a dependent.

He was ordered deported.

Then came a "humanitarian parole." It was a one-year extension from the INS, which came about after Hansen made pleas to public servants.

She is grateful for help received from Sen. Dianne Feinstein's office, and has a letter from Sen. Barbara Boxer, as well. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher from Huntington Beach also intervened on the family's behalf.

Tuesday's hearing was due to those politicians' efforts. The court was asked to view it as a case of "abandonment."

"Guy's mother died," says his lawyer, Carl Shusterman. "That's the ultimate abandonment."

But the judge was not swayed.

If the applicant had a trade, a professional reason to be in the U.S., it could be a factor. Guy's too young. If the applicant had been abused by a parent, it could be a factor. Guy was not.

His grandmother said Thursday, "We're trying to do everything legally. My husband and I are taxpayers, we've lived here our entire lives, we're retired. To be honest, we don't need these problems. But for the love that we have for this boy, we'd go to the ends of the Earth for him.

"Ever since my daughter's funeral in May of last year, we've done nothing but bump our heads against a brick wall. I don't know what's going to happen now, except that I might have a nervous breakdown."

*

Guy's deadline is Friday the 13th, three weeks from today. That's when his "humanitarian parole" expires.

He turns 18 in November. INS law "has a series of 'special immigrants,' for people who fall between the cracks of normal law," says Shusterman, the lawyer. But it's up to a court what qualifies as special.

"Please, please, let him have a green card," Guy's grandmother pleads to anyone who will listen.

Or back to Canada he goes. Alone.

Mike Downey's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Write to him at Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053. E-mail: mike.downey@latimes.com

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