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Status of Galaxy Rookies Remains Uncertain

Soccer: MLS draftees Serna and Retiz, Mexican citizens who starred locally, are still in limbo.

March 25, 2000|DAVE McKIBBEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The immigration status of Galaxy rookies Tomas Serna and Jose Retiz remained in doubt Friday, but it became clearer how both Mexican citizens could have advanced this far without proper documentation to work in this country.

Neither Retiz nor Serna, stars at Saddleback High and Santa Ana College who were drafted by the Galaxy in the third and fifth rounds of the MLS draft, were available for comment, and MLS and the Galaxy would not comment further on the matter. However, Santa Ana College officials confirmed that both players were admitted to the school legally.

"I think what they did was legal," said Hal Bateman, the school's dean of admissions. "We made the right decision based on what they turned in."

Bateman said it is school policy to ask if a student is a U.S. citizen. If the student does not indicate U.S. citizenship, he or she must show an alien number or an issue date of his or her visa. Bateman said it is possible that a student could identify himself as a U.S. citizen without an inquiry from the admissions office, provided the student could show he or she had established residency. Bateman said he could not discuss details of Serna's or Retiz's application for admission because of the right of privacy act.

Sharon Gavin, a public affairs officer for the Immigration and Naturalization Service, said she understands how Retiz and Serna could have come through high school and junior college without proper documents for employment.

"There are millions of undocumented aliens," Gavin said. "Many who have the same problems, they don't have an Employment Authorization Document."

In the case of Retiz and Serna, Gavin said they can apply for a P1 Visa, which is afforded to athletes of exceptional or extraordinary ability. Gavin said Serna and Retiz would not be penalized because they honed their skills in this country. Retiz and Serna immigrated to Southern California during junior high school.

"This kind of visa is not very common," Gavin said. "But it sounds as though [Serna and Retiz] would be able to demonstrate extraordinary ability as soccer players."

Gavin does not believe Retiz and Serna are in danger of being deported.

"Our No. 1 priority is to apprehend criminal aliens, people who pose a threat to society," she said. "We're also looking hard at employment fraud, large companies who are hiring numerous illegal aliens. This is not something we're going to rush right out to do."

Mel Silva, who coached Retiz and Serna at Saddleback, said he was devastated when he heard his former players were having immigration problems.

"It's really sad because they're good kids," said Silva, who had an undefeated regular season in 1998 with the high-scoring Serna and playmaking Retiz. "They're well-studied, well-mannered and they've led a normal life. It's really mind-boggling. This is supposed to be the land of opportunity. They're model kids and they deserve a break."

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