LV: Armenian sisters in ‘unusual’ case are called flight risks

LasVegas Sun, NV
Jan 26 2005

Armenian sisters in ‘unusual’ case are called flight risks
By Timothy Pratt
<[email protected]>

Federal immigration officials on Tuesday said the case of the
teenaged Armenian sisters threatened with deportation is “highly
unusual” and said the teens haven’t been released to their father
because they are considered a flight risk.

The Sarkisian sisters’ case is one of only several dozen of the more
than 10,000 cases in a year at the Los Angeles regional office that
are drawn out due to a federal court-issued stay, said Virginia Kice,
spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Gloria Kee, Los Angeles field office director for the immigration
office’s detention and removal section, also said the girls have not
been released to their father, Rouben, in Las Vegas, while the court
case is pending because they are considered “a flight risk.”

Although the girls’ father is a legal U.S. resident and runs
Tropicana Pizza in Henderson, the teens’ mother is in the country
illegally and “is an absconder,” Kee said.

“There is quite honestly a concern — will the family actually
cooperate in bringing them back?”

In the vast majority of cases in which deportation orders are issued,
immigrants are usually sent out of the United States immediately,
Kice said.

But Tuesday was the 12th day Emma, 18, and Mariam Sarkisian, 17, were
held in Los Angeles by federal authorities, pending a Las Vegas
federal magistrate’s decision on arguments for and against their

During that time, as publicity about the case has spread, public
support has grown and Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Las Vegas, sent a
letter dated Jan. 24 to the federal office urging “strong,
humanitarian consideration for deferred action” in the case.

The magistrate’s decision may uphold the federal government’s order
to send the girls to Armenia, a country that is so foreign to them
they don’t even speak its language, having been brought to the United
States when they were under 5 years old.

Kee said the Sarkisian family knew the day would come when the
sisters would be sent back to their birthplace since an order for
their deportation was issued in 1993.

Rouben and Anoush Sarkisian arrived to the United States in 1991.
Three more daughters were born in this country. They were divorced,
and Rouben gained the status of a legal resident — the step below
citizenship — when he married a U.S. citizen. That marriage later
broke apart.

Anoush never obtained legal U.S. status, Kee said.

During the 1990s each parent attempted to gain legal status for their
two older daughters, Kee said.

“On two occasions, the family came close to obtaining some sort of
benefit. But it was discovered that they could not once it was
revealed they had earlier orders of deportation,” she said.

Rouben has said in recent days that he thought otherwise and
attempted to obtain proof of the girls’ status in July, only to be
told of the deportation order. It took until some time shortly before
Jan. 14 for immigration authorities to obtain travel permits for the
girls from the Armenian Consulate in Los Angeles, at which point the
girls were detained.

But the family’s lawyers won a stay against their departure while a
federal magistrate reviews the team’s arguments and those of the
federal government.

The government filed its argument Tuesday.

The family’s lawyers are hoping the government will allow Rouben
several months to become a citizen, at which point he could petition
for his daughters to become residents.

Another reason the case is unusual, officials said, is Emma is an
adult, while Mariam is a minor. This means Mariam is not what is
known as an “unaccompanied minor,” and an agreement forged in April
between immigration authorities and the Department of Health and
Human Services regarding the care of such minors does not apply, they

That agreement includes provisions for the medical care of a minor
and their educational and other needs, according to Gregory Chen,
director of policy analysis and research at the U.S. Committee for
Refugees and Immigrants.

Kee said that although the detention of the girls “was meant to be
temporary,” a nurse is available to them if they have any health
problems. She said that immigrants awaiting resolution of their cases
are examined within 14 days of the date they are detained.

But, Kee said, the system typically doesn’t wind up having to spend
so much time taking care of people who have been ordered deported.