By The Associated Press
OXFORD — University of Mississippi student Patricia Pacheco is facing deportation because she is an illegal immigrant.
Growing up poor with a single mother in southern Florida, she knew she couldn’t afford a car, but she at least wanted a driver’s license. That was when her mother revealed an astonishing family secret.
The Commercial Appeal reports Pacheco couldn’t get a driver’s license, she learned, because she and her mother were illegal immigrants. They had come to the United States from Brazil when Pacheco was 7, in September 1995.
“I never thought I was any different,” she said. “It hurt our relationship a lot. It just ruined things. I don’t hate her. But I hate that she did this and didn’t try to make things right sooner.”
Pacheco’s own actions — not her mother’s — have resulted in a Sept. 28 deportation hearing at the Memphis field office of the Department of Homeland Security.
“She probably could’ve rocked along for years without anyone noticing,” said Jack Richbourg, her lawyer, who has handled immigration cases in Memphis since 1997. “But she tried to do what she thought was right.”
Five years ago, the 22-yedar-old Pacheco confessed her status and asked for asylum. Asylum is a safe haven the United States offers immigrants who face persecution in their native country on the grounds of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.
“We know that Brazil is civilized. It isn’t Pakistan,” Richbourg told the newspaper.
Richbourg said Pacheco has only two relatives in Brazil — grandparents in their 80s who live outside of Rio de Janeiro — and she speaks Portuguese, the national language there, at a kindergarten level.
Her asylum request put her on the Department of Homeland Security’s radar.
She enrolled in Ole Miss — where she majors in business management with hopes of law school — while her status was being processed.
Because illegal immigrants are ineligible for financial aid, she has been paying full out-of-state tuition — $10,000 per semester — thanks to benefactors from her hometown.
“It’s tragic that the mother is the one who evaded the law, and this young woman who embraced the system is the one facing deportation. The fact that she didn’t know she was undocumented is common. We take our parents’ word for things like that,” said Michael Olivas, a law professor at the University of Houston.