Aiken student update: Sen. Graham will sponsor bill to help Negrete

AIKEN — Two weeks ago The Miscellany published a story  about Griselda Lopez Negrete, the Aiken honors student who was arrested by immigration officials and faces deportation because of the undocumented status of her  Mexican mother, now deceased. Since then, there has been a new development in the story.

The 15-year-old traveled to Washington on her spring break from Silver Bluff High School at the expense of several immigrant advocacy groups, and visited with South Carolina’s junior senator, Lindsey Graham. She must have impressed the senator as much as she impresses her friends and advocates.

Graham said that he will sponsor a so-called “private bill” that will effectively allow Griselda to at least finish her high school years in America. For her long-term future and that of other immigrant students who are contributing to society, the sophomore is still hoping for passage of a Senate bill called the Dream Act, which would grant leniency to some alien students. Graham opposes the act as it is currently written, and does not expect it to pass this year. According to Josh Bernstein of the National Immigration   Law Center, the Dream Act would allow undocumented minor aliens who have grown up in the States to stay here if they go on to college or serve in the U.S. military. The House of Representatives has a similar bill pending.

Griselda’s attorney, Glenda Bunce of Catholic Charities, said that she doesn’t think Graham’s private bill will even be filed until she and her client meet with a district judge to apply for asylum in the United States. That meeting is scheduled for May 27.

“The date for the merits hearing (on the application for asylum) could be as long as six months from May 27,” Bunce said.

That extension and the time bought by Graham’s private bill will probably allow Griselda Lopez Negrete to complete high school in May 2006 before any actual deportation could take place. The Dream Act itself (S. 1545) moved out of the Senate Judiciary Committee last year on a 16-3 vote and could probably pass into law if it came up for a vote, according to Bernstein.

“We are confident that if it comes to a vote in either the House or the Senate it will pass overwhelmingly. The challenge in this election year, with neither party anxious to pass much of anything, is to get it onto the floor for a vote,” Bernstein said.

To keep the Dream Act alive, he said, will require a sense of passion from people who want to keep youngsters like Griselda from being deported.