Thursday, June 18, 2009

Immigration paperwork snafu may deport family with disabled daughter away from father

From the New York Daily News:

Hayoung Lee is used to beating the odds.

When she was born 15 years ago in South Korea, doctors told her family the severely disabled girl wouldn't live to see her first birthday.

But she did. Seven years later, her parents moved to the United States so that little Hayoung could get better treatment. With the help of intensive therapy, the once-bedridden girl can now walk.

"It's a miracle," said her mother, Yoojung Choi Lee, 44.

Now Hayoung and her whole family need another miracle.

Hayoung, her mother and her 17-year-old sister, Haeun - an award-winning student at Townsend Harris High School - face deportation because of a paperwork snafu.

Their green card applications were mishandled by a broker to whom they paid more than $16,000. The broker assured them the filing would be handled properly, the family said.

Their deportation would leave Hayoung's father, Bong Chang Lee, alone in the U.S. with the couple's son, Jason, 5.

The 46-year-old dad said that's not an option.

"A man is responsible for his family," Lee said through a translator at the family's apartment in Bayside. "It's unthinkable for me to be separated from my family."

The family faced its first hearing Monday in immigration court. The next step is a legal conference at the end of next month.

Attorney Kerry Bretz, who specializes in immigration law, said he was so moved by the family's story that he has allowed his senior associate, David Kim, to work on the complicated, time-consuming case pro bono.

"Had the person they went to filed the papers correctly, they would already have their green cards," said Bretz.

The Lees have spent the past nine years building strong ties in their Queens community. Bong Chang Lee, who has a green card, works full time as a manager at a food plant in Tappan, Rockland County.

An essay written by Haeun, also known as Joanne, was chosen for publication in the Harvard Education Review. In an ironic twist, her topic was "The DREAM Act," the proposed law to make it easier for undocumented high school graduates already in the U.S. to become citizens.

"We've really established our lives," said Joanne, who will be a senior at Townsend Harris in September. "My dream is to stay [in the U.S.] and get educated."

She and her family also worry that Hayoung will deteriorate, because there are fewer services in South Korea for people with her severe neurological and developmental disabilities.

"This is the American Dream - a hardworking family, they go to church, the daughter is an excellent student," said Bretz. "If you don't want these people to live in the country, who do you want?"