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VALLEY ROUNDUP | Northridge

Immigrant Given Residency Status

November 23, 2000|IRENE GARCIA

President Clinton signed a bill Wednesday granting permanent residency to an immigrant who came from El Salvador as a 10-year-old and grew up here without his parents.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) in January, passed the Senate in late September and the House in October. The last step was the president's signature.

"I'm crying, I can't believe it finally happened," said Tony Lara, 20, who lives in Northridge with his high school wrestling coach.

Lara came to the United States with his parents and younger sister, Olga, in 1990, fleeing civil war in his homeland.

Later that year his mother was deported. She drowned while trying to cross the border back into the United States. Lara's father was deported in 1994.

Lara became a surrogate father to his sister. The youngsters struggled, sometimes living with friends, sometimes with extended family or even strangers.

A San Fernando Valley couple eventually adopted Olga, but Lara remained on his own. Immigration law bars granting U.S. citizenship to minors from other countries unless their parents are also seeking citizenship, so Lara was in a bind.

Still, he never missed a day of classes at El Camino Real High School in Woodland Hills and, as a junior, he won the state wrestling championship in the 98-pound division.

El Camino wrestling Coach Terry Fischer took the teenager in to live with his family in Northridge, even after Lara graduated from high school and went on to business classes at West Valley Occupational Center, an adult trade school operated by the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Lara earned certificates--in data entry, accounting and computer operations--in two years at the center and now does volunteer office work at El Camino Real High.

"The first thing I'm going to do is get a driver's license. Then I'm going to get a job," Lara said. "I just can't believe it. This has changed my life."

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