Aiken honors student faces deportation to Mexico

AIKEN — Her principal calls her an exemplary student and she is a national finalist in an academic competition as a sophomore; she is popular at school, goes to church and considers herself an American. She has never been in trouble.

Yet Griselda Lopez Negrete faces imminent deportation to a country she does not know and where she has no immediate relatives.

“Griselda’s story is tragic, but not unique,” said Josh Bernstein, federal policy director for the National Immigration Law Center, an immigrant advocacy organization.

The 15-year-old’s story is that she is an illegal alien, even though she was brought to the states from Mexico as an infant and knows no other home but Aiken. Her mother died from an aneurysm in South Carolina when Griselda, one of four daughters, was eight. The teen found out about her own undocumented status suddenly and harshly when she went with her aunt to an immigration hearing to translate for her. She was arrested by the U. S. Department of Homeland Security.

“I never expected this to happen. I never expected anyone to actually arrest me,” she said.

Griselda has mostly non-Hispanic friends, she said, since Latinos are not common at Silver Bluff High School where she is an honors student, but she found out about Catholic Charities through a friend who is organizing a youth group for Hispanics in Aiken. Glenda L. Bunce, who is an attorney for Immigration Services for the Diocese of Charleston, took her case.

“It’s an unusual case because of her personal circumstances, because of her age and the fact that she has no relatives in Mexico and is such an outstanding student,” Bunce said. “But her chances are slim.”

The lawyer said that the girl has a good claim for asylum, which she made at a hearing on March 28, but that the federal court for this district will probably not rule in her favor:

“This court is the most conservative in the country when it comes to immigration law,” Bunce said.

Even though they have filed for asylum and have been given until May 27 to submit their asylum application, Griselda and her lawyer are relying on passage of the so-called Dream Act to prevent her deportation.

The Dream Act is a bill (S 1545) before the U.S. Senate that would grant leniency to some alien students and grant the opportunity to apply for permanent resident status to those who complete their education in this country and either attend college or enter the military service. Analysts think the bill has a good chance of passage if it comes up for a vote, and Griselda intends to go to college. And she’ll probably make it, according to the head of her school.

“I consider her to be an exemplary student in every way. She ranks near the top of her class academically, is well-liked and well-adjusted,” said Warren Whitson, principal of her high school.

Griselda and two schoolmates at Silver Bluff entered a project in the entrepreneurship category of the statewide competition of Future Business Leaders of America on March 27 in Charleston. The three girls placed second in South Carolina and won a position in the national finals in Denver this July. It was the first time a team from SBHS has made the finals. They need $800 apiece to pay for the trip, a cost her family cannot afford.

“My dad is a part-time groom in one of the horse stables here and is self-employed, so we’re going to have some fund-raisers for the trip. People have been generous to me so far,” Griselda said.

She is studying for the end of the school term and planning her trip to the competition, trying to keep her legal problems from taking over her life. Still, Griselda knows she is fighting an uphill battle to stay in her adopted country. She attends St. Mary Help of Christian Church and believes that God will help her out of her predicament.

“Maybe he will make people be more open-minded about this Dream Act; there are lots of kids like me,” she said.

The House of Representatives is considering a counterpart to that Senate bill (H. R. 1684), the Student Adjustment Act. Bernstein said that Griselda’s schoolmates circulated a petition requesting passage of the Dream Act when they learned of her arrest and pending deportation.

“I hope the president and the Congress listen to Griselda’s classmates. [The government] has much better things to do than deporting high-achieving young people like Griselda,” said the immigration activist.

If you’d like to help
Donations for Griselda’s trip may be sent to Silver Bluff High School, 64 Desoto Dr., Aiken, SC 29803.