This article by Julie Turkewitz appeared in The New York Times.
On July 22, 2011, José Arias and José del Carmen Arias, then 19, were just another father and son in a long security line at the San Juan Airport in Puerto Rico. Both had green cards showing they were lawful residents of the United States. They had made this journey — from the Dominican Republic, where both were born, back to Puerto Rico, where they lived — many times before.
This time, however, something different happened, something that would redirect the course of their lives for the next two and a half years.
The pair approached a desk, and an official flipped through Mr. del Carmen’s passport. He had been in the Dominican Republic for 20 months, the officer noted. That was too long, he said, meaning that Mr. del Carmen had officially abandoned his United States residency. The officer confiscated the green card and Mr. del Carmen’s passport, thrusting the young man into immigration limbo.
Because Mr. del Carmen, who is deaf, attended school in the Dominican Republic, and because both he and his father both had undergone medical treatment there, they had not been able to return to Puerto Rico for many months.
Mr. del Carmen was devastated. He had been planning to attend a prestigious school for the deaf in New York in the fall of that year. “I was shocked,” said Mr. del Carmen, now a ponytailed 22-year-old, speaking through a sign-language interpreter. “I felt like they really hit me. I was patient, I needed an interpreter. But they said, ‘No, your father can speak for you.’ ” The confiscation of his documents did not prevent Mr. del Carmen from entering the country. Instead, he was issued a notice to appear in court to fight for his United States residency status.
He eventually arrived in New York, along with his father, and began his studies at the Lexington School for the Deaf. “In the Dominican it wasn’t comfortable in a school for the deaf,” he said. “I was bored.” His teachers at Lexington pushed him, he said, and his brain swam with new concepts and ideas.
Soon he was reading and writing in English. He watched the deaf professionals around him, and began to dream of an independent life.
“They had serious rules there,” he said of Lexington. “And I liked that.” He started dating a baby-faced fellow student named Gloria. They went to the prom together, floating around Manhattan on a luxurious white boat.
Outside of school, however, life was not easy. Mr. del Carmen’s father, who lost a leg in a car accident when he was 7, could not find work. For months, Mr. del Carmen slept alone in the basement of a church on West 107th Street in Harlem, while his father stayed in a shelter nearby.
The two eventually found a subsidized apartment in the Bronx. And in June 2012, Mr. del Carmen graduated from Lexington with honors. “It was a moment of real happiness,” said his father, Mr. Arias. “But also sadness because my son told me there was job training for him in Manhattan. But when he arrived at the institution, they said because he didn’t have a green card, he couldn’t begin the training.”
Life suddenly ground to a halt.
Without his residency, Mr. del Carmen could not find employment or attend postgraduate classes. His goals — to support himself, to move out, to send money back home, to take Gloria on a proper date — receded further and further into the distance. He spent his time at home, alone, in the studio apartment he shared with his father.
Then the pair found Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New York, one of the seven agencies supported by The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund. A lawyer with the agency, Emiko Furuya-Cortes, agreed to take Mr. del Carmen’s case. “I saw this bright kid with access to school, and the disabilities — it was obvious, the hardship was obvious. We had to take the case,” she said.
Catholic Charities also drew $399 from the fund to help Mr. del Carmen buy a laptop, connecting him to the world outside the apartment — to church groups, to English-language education — while he waited for his adult life to begin. “He wanted to escape this place of darkness,” Mr. Arias said.
Finally, during a telephone hearing this month, a judge in Puerto Rico declared that Mr. del Carmen would be reinstated as a lawful, permanent resident, and would get his green card and passport back.
“José the father came to pick it up,” Ms. Furuya-Cortes said. “When I asked him, ‘How did José react when he got the green card back?’ he said, ‘He was so excited.’ That little plastic card was holding off a whole lot in his life.”
For the original report go to http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/27/nyregion/his-green-card-returned-doors-re-open.html