IMMIGRATION CASE: Girls get to stay in U.S.

Las Vegas Review-Journal, NV
Jan 28 2005

IMMIGRATION CASE: Girls get to stay in U.S.

Intervention ends deportation threat for LV teens


Rouben Sarkisian and his daughter Elizabeth, 12, get emotional
Thursday after hearing that Sarkisian’s two oldest daughters, who are
incarcerated in Los Angeles and were facing deportation, will be
released today.
Photo by K.M. Cannon.

Palo Verde High School graduate Emma Sarkisian, 18, is shown in this
undated family photo made available to the Review-Journal.

Palo Verde High School student Mariam Sarkisian, 17, is shown in this
undated family photo made available to the Review-Journal.

Rouben Sarkisian celebrates Thursday after hearing that his two
oldest daughters, who are incarcerated in Los Angeles and were facing
deportation, will be released today.
Photo by K.M. Cannon.

Rouben Sarkisian’s despair over the looming deportation of his two
teenage daughters was transformed into delight Thursday, when
intervention from some of the highest levels of government secured
their release from federal custody and the dismissal of the case
against them.

“My heart is ready to leap out of my body,” Sarkisian said in Russian
while working at his Tropicana Pizza parlor in Henderson. “At first,
I didn’t believe it would happen so fast. This day gives me more and
more good surprises.”

Immigration officials are expected to release Emma Sarkisian, 18, and
Mariam Sarkisian, 17, today. The girls, who are being held in a Los
Angeles Detention Center, will be flown back to Las Vegas, and then
turned over to the custody of their father. The family has been
separated since the girls were arrested Jan. 14.

Both Emma and Mariam were born in Armenia but raised in the United
States. They emigrated from the former Soviet Union in 1991 with
their father, who is a legal resident in the process of obtaining his
citizenship. Emma and Mariam have three younger sisters who are
American-born citizens.

Immigration officials were trying to deport Emma and Mariam to
Armenia. Neither teen speaks Armenian or has any means of support to
sustain them in that country.

The illegal status of the girls was not discovered until a trip to
the Department of Motor Vehicles sent them to Las Vegas immigration
officials for confirmation of their residency status in July.

Then the girls discovered they faced an outstanding order of
deportation. Until then, the family thought they were properly
documented. The girls were arrested two weeks ago when they complied
with a summons to report to the immigration office.

The girls’ difficulty is rooted in Sarkisian’s divorce from his
second wife, who was a U.S. citizen. Immigration officials told him
that his divorce voided the 1997 notice of acceptance of residency
applications sent to the girls by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Sarkisian said he was never informed of that. If he had been,
Sarkisian said, he would have corrected the situation immediately.

The plight of the family garnered much sympathy from residents, who
lobbied Nevada’s congressional delegation for relief.

Troy Baker, one of three attorneys working on behalf of the sisters,
said his understanding was that U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security
Tom Ridge deferred action on the case against the girls, which means
they no longer face deportation.

“The whole thing is over,” said Baker, who received the news after 6

Earlier this week, U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., asked Ridge to
intercede in the Sarkisian case. Sarkisian said Reid’s concern had
given him cause to hope.

“He has great heart,” Sarkisian said. “He is a humanitarian.”

Sarkisian was also thankful to the people who lobbied on behalf of
his children, including retired Archbishop Vatche« Housepian of the
Western Diocese of the Armenian Church in North America. He flew to
Las Vegas from Los Angeles on Monday to offer aid to the family and
their attorneys.

Baker said he believed the calls and e-mails of support people made
to lawmakers were vital in turning the tide.

“If you want to give props to where they should go, it’s to the good
citizens of Nevada who heard the story or read it in the newspaper
and got involved,” Baker said. “That’s what got Senator (Reid) to
take notice.”

The evening events erased the disappointments experienced by the
family in federal court Thursday morning.

Attorneys Baker, Jeremiah Stuchiner and Vladimir Goutsaliouk
unsuccessfully sought an order of release for the girls. U.S.
Magistrate Judge Robert Johnston said he could find no legal basis to
grant the request.

“I thought the judge would send them home,” said younger sister
Michele Sarkisian, 13, after the ruling. “At least he gave us more
time though. He didn’t deport them today.”

Sarkisian said the mental state of his daughters had been
deteriorating while in custody. The limited phone calls they were
able to make from Los Angeles were filled with tears. Emma,
especially, was growing increasingly depressed.

During the hearing, Johnston voiced concern about the welfare of the
girls and asked about the conditions of their detention.

Attorney Tom Walter, representing U.S. Immigrations and Custom
Enforcement, said he understood from officers at the Los Angeles
Detention Center that the girls were kept separate from the general
population and given access to family and legal counsel.

Stuchiner, who took the case for free, took issue with that

Immigration officials did not tell the family where the girls were
being held for more than a week, he said. They lack access to
showers, he said, and on Thursday told him they had been without
toothbrushes and toothpaste since they arrived at the detention
center Jan. 14.

And, Stuchiner added, the girls’ access to their family was limited
to 12 minutes at a time, the duration of the phone cards they receive
while in detention.

“It’s ridiculous,” Stuchiner said. “It’s just silly to say the family
has access.”

Baker said family friends were permitted to deliver fresh clothes to
the girls on Thursday, as they prepared to return home.

Elizabeth Sarkisian, 12, plans to meet her sisters with Titi in tow,
the family mutt that Mariam loves best.

The separation has been a burden on the Sarkisian family, which
relies on Emma and Mariam to help run the family business. The
Sarkisians live in northwest Las Vegas, where Mariam attended Palo
Verde High School as a senior. Emma graduated from Palo Verde in

Mariam’s teachers have called the family to say that they will be
happy to help her catch up when she returns. While in detention,
Mariam missed her final exams.

The father had to fight back his tears Thursday morning when he
described his 10-year-old daughter’s worry for her sisters’ plight.

“Patricia, the youngest, comes to me every day and asks if it’s true
they will let Emma and Mariam go free today,” he said.

The decision to release the girls does not set any kind of legal
precedent, Baker said. Immigration officials have discretion within
the law.

The girls are still technically illegal, but the deferment means that
the father will be given time to obtain citizenship. Once he has
that, he can sponsor both his daughters for legal residency.

That was the solution defense attorneys had sought from the start.
Baker laughed when asked why immigration officials didn’t exercise
their discretion from the outset.

“They did,” Baker said. “They exercised it in the negative.”

For pictures:

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress