Support builds for Armenian teens

Tuesday, January 25, 2005
Las Vegas Review-Journal
Support builds for Armenian teens
Church official joins cause to halt deportation

Rouben Sarkisian holds his three U.S.-born children, Michele, 13, Elizabeth,
12, and Patricia, 10, in front of the Lloyd George U.S. Courthouse on
Monday. Sarkisian’s two oldest daughters are jailed in Los Angeles, facing
deportation to Armenia.
Photo by Jeff Scheid.

At a rally protesting the deportation of his daughters, Rouben Sarkisian
displays childhood photos of Emma, now 18, and Mariam, now 17. The two girls
emigrated with their father from the former Soviet Union in 1991, before its
Photo by Jeff Scheid.

Emma and Mariam Sarkisian might be teenagers without a country, but the
public response generated by U.S. government attempts to deport them proved
on Monday that they’re not without supporters.
Retired Archbishop Vatché Housepian of the Western Diocese of the Armenian
Church in North America flew in from Los Angeles to meet with attorneys
representing the Las Vegas sisters. He offered to use his influence and the
resources of his church to help keep the family together.
Although immigration officials say the two sisters are in the country
illegally, their father, Rouben Sarkisian, is a legal resident of the United
States. Their three younger sisters are citizens. The two oldest sisters are
now jailed in Los Angeles and face deportation to Armenia, a country that
didn’t even exist when they emigrated as small children with their father
from the Soviet Union in 1991. The girls do not speak Armenian and have no
family there.
“The lives of two young girls are at stake,” Housepian said of his reasons
for volunteering aid. “America is all they know. This is not a simple legal
matter. It’s a moral matter, an ethical matter. This would destroy their
entire family.”
Housepian had to return to Los Angeles before a group of friends and
sympathizers rallied on behalf of the girls in front of the steps to the
federal courthouse Monday afternoon. Until July, both girls were unaware of
their illegal status. Letters sent from the U.S. Department of Justice in
1997 showed acceptance of their applications of residency, which later were
nullified when Rouben Sarkisian divorced his U.S. wife. Sarkisian said he
received no notice from immigration officials of the change in status.
The girls were taken into custody by Homeland Security officers on Jan. 13
and are detained in Los Angeles. The family only recently learned that Emma,
18, a 2004 graduate of Palo Verde High School, and Mariam, 17, a senior at
Palo Verde, are jailed in a detention center next to the Los Angeles county
Housepian said he plans to try and see them this week. So does Gary
Nikogosyan, a Glendale, Calif., businessman who closed his auto-body repair
shop on Monday and drove four hours to Las Vegas to support the Sarkisians.
“It’s ridiculous and so, so sad,” said Nikogosyan, a friend of the family,
who added that the situation has drawn the attention of the sizable Armenian
community in Los Angeles. “If they are deported, they will have no one
there. How will they get by?”
Palo Verde parent and Summerlin resident Tracey Kreiling is a stranger to
the Sarkisian family, but she decided to show her support by coming to the
rally. Kreiling said she is shocked that government officials can take
minors into custody without disclosing to parents where they’re being held.
Kreiling, who’s also distressed by the conditions of the girls’
incarceration, said she’s already e-mailed 70 people about the plight of the
Sarkisian children, from U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., to Gov. Kenny Guinn.
“My concern is for the family,” Kreiling said. “They should have been fully
informed about the status of their children and they should have access to
them day and night.”
Reid will also be hearing from Sarkisian family friend Elena Protopopova,
who has started a petition asking for the lawmaker’s help in bringing the
girls home. She was able to get her first 30 signatures at the rally. Tessa
Hafen, a spokeswoman for Reid, said he is paying close attention to the
developing situation.
“He is very sympathetic with the children and wants to make sure they’re
treated fairly,” Hafen said.
Defense attorneys for the Sarkisians are seeking an order of release in
federal court. U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Johnston is hearing the case.