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Mother Gives Birth, Faces Deportation

Her case illustrates the disarray of government records on people who have crossed the U.S. border illegally.

April 23, 2006|Garance Burke | Associated Press Writer

RAYMORE, Mo. — Myrna Dick is desperate for her 16-month-old to take a nap, so she cajoles him with soft Spanish phrases.

"Vete a dormir, mijo," she says, telling him to sleep as he fumbles for Teddy Grahams. "Take the bear in your arms and the two of you go lie down."

It's a suburban life, in a place that hosts fishing derbies and Easter egg hunts and calls itself the "Garden Spot of the State." But it's a life that Zachary Dick, snug in his cornflower-colored jumpsuit, was nearly denied.

In 2004, the government tried to deport Myrna Dick. It charged that she once lied to gain entry to the United States, that she claimed she was American when she was in fact Mexican.

But Myrna was pregnant, and a federal judge in Missouri said Myrna's fetus was an American citizen. He could not be expelled, and as a result, neither could she.

Until Zachary was born.

Then, immigration officials reasserted their claims. In February, a federal appeals court gave immigration officials the right to bar the 31-year-old mother from the United States for life, separating her from her son and her American husband.

This time, the family's case is attracting the attention of prominent legislators who say it symbolizes the contradictions of the broken U.S. immigration system. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, a research organization in Washington, almost 5% of U.S. families are headed by illegal immigrants.

"Illegal immigration is deeply intertwined within our households and communities," said former INS Commissioner Doris Meissner. "A family like this is an illustration of literally millions of people in the country today."

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Myrna was born in Chihuahua, Mexico, and grew up in Santa Barbara Tutuaca, a mountain village of 3,000. Her father, Ramon Ochoa, told his 20 children stories of picking string beans and onions in California's Central Valley, where he traveled in the 1950s and '60s under the United States' first guest-worker program.

Two older sisters had left the family ranch in Santa Barbara to work in Texas, and would come back periodically with their daughters to stock their mother's grocery store.

"Our skin would be black from working outside," Myrna said, "and my nieces would come in from America with their beautiful clothes and their dolls. Seeing them was like dreaming of being a star."

When Myrna, an epileptic, suffered from grand mal seizures at age 12, her father sold everything and the entire family moved to Texas so she could get treatment.

They overstayed a temporary visa and settled illegally in Oakleaf, near Dallas. Myrna spent much of the rest of school in the nurse's office, learning English in fits and starts.

No one can explain why Myrna was passed over during the 1980s amnesty, when millions of immigrants were allowed to stay. Most of her family, including both parents, were granted citizenship or permanent residency then.

Still, Myrna came to think of herself as a proud Texan. At work one night, she met Brady Dick when he wandered into the Dallas sports bar where she was a hostess.

After dating a few months, they married in 2002. That same year, Brady submitted an application for Myrna to become a U.S. resident by marriage.

But when she went to renew her work visa in spring 2004, the federal government ordered her immediate deportation.

Everyone agrees that Myrna crossed the desert in 1998 to go to her grandmother's funeral in Chihuahua. She said smugglers led her and another woman through the sand for hours, where border agents found them on a deserted hill.

"It was all sand and bushes," Myrna said, crying as she told the story. "The wind lifted up the dirt. They caught us someplace -- I don't even know where. All I remember is it was night and we were alone with them."

What's in dispute is what happened next.

Michael Sharma-Crawford, her lawyer, said Myrna never claimed she was a U.S. citizen, but instead told officials she was attempting to enter the country illegally. The government says when agents took her fingerprints, she told them her name was Ivette Treviso-Frias (something she denies) and said she was American.

That lie, the government says, makes her ineligible to live in America.

"The consequences are based on her own actions," said Carl Rusnok, a spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. "The charge has been made before about family separation. However, there is a strong element of personal responsibility that has to be taken into account when someone violates the law and they are put away in jail."

Six years later, the government reinstated the old deportation order under Treviso-Frias' name to take Myrna into custody. Myrna was three months pregnant. For two weeks, while nauseous with morning sickness, she was shackled to the floor and bused from a detention facility in Versailles, Mo., to Immigration and Customs offices in Kansas City.

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