Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Immigration Widow avoid deportation by ICE. "I'm not sure they're being mean-spirited, and I don't think they are, I just think they don't want any more heat here and just want to get rid of it.

CHICAGO (AP) - As a distressed Corina Turcinovic sat in a white van bound for the airport, it seemed her worst fear was about to become reality _ she would be deported from the country she considers home.

Instead, the van suddenly turned around, making Tuesday one of the happiest days of her life.

Not only was Turcinovic _ a 43-year-old illegal immigrant who overstayed her visa while caring for her late, paralyzed husband _ spared from being sent to her native France, but immigration officials freed her from a jail where she'd been held for more than three weeks.

All thanks to friends, lawyers and congressmen who frantically scrambled on her behalf.

"I'm in heaven," Turcinovic told The Associated Press by cell phone less than 30 minutes after her release. "It's been really insane. I can't believe I'm sitting here. I'm going to go and kiss my dog."

Turcinovic said she intended to go out later Tuesday and "take everyone who help me out for a steak dinner, on me."

Her attorney sought lawmakers' intervention as the clock ticked toward a 6:19 p.m. flight time. The successful appeal was almost unheard of, attorney John Colbert said.

"This is very rare, really unique," Colbert said. "It was so touch and go all day."

Turcinovic, of Bordeaux, said she regarded the U.S. as her home after taking care of her quadriplegic husband, an immigrant from Croatia, at their home on Chicago's South Side for more than a decade until he died in 2004.

Maro Turcinovic was crossing a street on a visit to the U.S. in 1990 when a drunken driver hit him. He was granted legal status and applied for U.S. citizenship but died before his paperwork went through.

As part of his application, Maro Turcinovic was required to give fingerprints, but could not leave his home to do so because of his disability. Immigration officials made a mistake by denying his application when Maro Turcinovic didn't show up for a status hearing, Colbert said.

If it wasn't for the error, Corina Turcinovic could have stayed in the country legally as the wife or widow of a U.S. citizen, Colbert said. Instead, she was arrested her at home late last month.

Corina Turcinovic had lived legally in the U.S. for 14 years by applying for stays of deportation on the humanitarian grounds that she was her husband's caretaker.

Colbert said he didn't know why authorities moved up her scheduled deportation from Jan. 30, waking her before dawn Tuesday, placing handcuffs and leg shackles on her, then taking her to a detention center.

"I'm not sure they're being mean-spirited, and I don't think they are, I just think they don't want any more heat here and just want to get rid of it," he said.

Last week, Democratic Rep. Dan Lipinski introduced a private bill that eventually could grant permanent resident status to Corina Turcinovic. A private bill is one that would provide benefits to specific individuals.

Lipinski said he spent much of Tuesday getting members of the House Judiciary Committee to contact immigration authorities.

"It could not have been any more dramatic," he said. "But I'm very happy with the result."

Lipinski hoped committee members would vote soon to request a report from immigration authorities on Corina Turcinovic's case, legislative action he said would allow her to stay in the U.S. until at least the middle of next year.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement stopped her deportation to give Congress more time to decide on the bill, spokeswoman Gail Montenegro said.

Authorities showed "a great deal of compassion" by extending Corina Turcinovic's visa over the years, Montenegro said.

"But the fact remains that Ms. Turcinovic has been residing in the U.S. without authorization" since August 2004, she said. "And we're required to enforce the nation's laws without regard to an individual's ability to generate media attention."

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