I just talked to Jonathan Chavez' lawyer, Sandra Lambert, on the telephone. Chavez is the Peruvian-born University of Arkansas Honors College senior who was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement when he got off a bus in Florida, where he'd gone to visit his mother during the Christmas holidays. Lambert had a correction on our previous blog item: Chavez' parents did not come to Rogers on a work visa. They came on tourist visas, thinking they could get work visas once they arrived. (They were unaware how difficult that is.) Jonathan was 14 when he arrived in the U.S.
They overstayed their visas, and in the ensuing stress, got divorced. Both have remarried, and both now have permanent residency, as does Jonathan's younger sister. Chavez' father lives in Louisiana. Because of bad legal advice they received years ago, they did not apply for permanent residency for Jonathan until recently. Lambert said the backlog for processing such applications is so great that approval would be years away (the federal office is currently working on applications filed in 2003, she said).
Lambert said Chavez has a 3.8 gradepoint average at the U of A, where he is two semesters away from graduating with a degree in music. He graduated from high school in Rogers with a 4.0 gradepoint. He is a tenor and hopes to sing opera. He is also president of the International Student Christian Association at the U of A.
Chavez has a bond hearing tomorrow before a judge in Fort Lauderdale. Lambert will go armed with tons of letters from friends and faculty attesting to his good character and asking for his release. Lambert is asking the Department of Homeland Security for "deferred action" on Chavez, to allow him to stay in the U.S. long enough to graduate. Sometimes, such deferrals are open-ended, which would allow Chavez to say until he could gain permanent residency. That process is an administrative, rather than a judicial, process.
Lambert said Chavez is a perfect candidate for deferred action, though that does not mean he'll get it by any means. Had the Dream Act passed, Chavez would have been "a prime candidate" for residency, she said. "He has huge support from the community, the university community, as well as [his] church. He's a great kid. He's the kind of kid we want in the U.S. and the type of kid that should deserve [legal status]."