Published Friday, July 3, 2009 | 2 a.m.
Updated Monday, July 6, 2009 | 5:37 p.m.
- A family's reprieve from fear (4-4-2009)
- Legal tempest threatens to break up family (2-25-2009)
- Reid’s phone call to Ridge spurs LV sisters’ release from federal custody (1-28-2005)
- Sisters facing deportation to remain in custody (1-27-2005)
- Girls’ plight sparks community support (1-25-2005)
UPDATE: Immigration authorities granted Anoush Sarkisian what's known as "deferred action" on Monday, July 6, a postponement of her deportation for at least 90 days, according to her attorney, Arsen V. Baziyants. That means Baziyants and probably Sarkisian, after she gets out of the hospital, must report regularly to authorities during that period. In three months, ICE will decide whether to resume efforts to deport Sarkisian, who underwent surgery Monday, Baziyants said.
Anoush Sarkisian is not in the mood for celebrating Independence Day this year, nearly two decades after first touching U.S. soil.
This Fourth of July is scheduled to be the last in Las Vegas for the 50-year-old mother of five girls. Authorities plan to deport her Monday.
Sarkisian discovered this last week when she showed up for her monthly visit to local immigration authorities, and an official handed her what attorneys call a “bag and baggage” letter. It dryly informed her that “arrangements will be made for your departure to Armenia” on July 6.
It looks like the end of nearly five years of back-and-forth between the Las Vegas family and the federal government. The outcome will either separate Sarkisian from her daughters, three of whom are under age 18 and born in the United States, or force the girls to build a new life in a land they know next to nothing about, and whose language they neither speak well nor write. It’s also a country that didn’t exist when Sarkisian came to the United States. When she left her homeland, it was part of the Soviet Union.
The family’s U.S. immigration case has involved the highest-ranking U.S. senator; a diocese with 45 parishes in 13 states; officials in Immigrations and Customs Enforcement; local and Los Angeles jails, courts and lawyers; local and national news media; and of course, the government of Armenia.
In January 2005, immigration officials attempted to deport Anoush’s two eldest daughters, Emma, then 18, and Mariam, then 17, to Armenia. After the girls spent several weeks in an L.A. jail amid increasingly intense media coverage, Nevada Sen. Harry Reid intervened at the last minute to stop the order.
But the same outcry hasn’t accompanied attempts begun this year to deport Anoush, and Armenia recently agreed to accept her, though she isn’t really a citizen of that country, either.
Immigration officials say they are just carrying out an order of deportation. An appeal of that order sits unanswered at the Board of Immigration Appeals. On May 6, her attorney, Arsen V. Baziyants, filed a formal request to reopen the case.
Federal officials caught up with Anoush this year when they discovered she was giving a deposition in an auto accident lawsuit. Several Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents surprised her outside a law office on Feb. 2, ordering her out of her car and into handcuffs in front of Emma, now 22.
Nearly two months in a jail cell followed, including, she said, four days chained to a hospital bed. Anoush suffers from diabetes, migraines and heart problems. The federal government released her March 26 under an “order of supervision,” meaning she had to report regularly to immigration officials in Las Vegas.
Emma and Mariam have been under the same order since their detention four years ago, when they were teens working in their father’s suburban strip mall pizzeria. Their arrests and the family’s pleas for help placed them under the glare of national media attention and in the debate over immigration law.
The family’s mixture of immigration statuses dates to the early 1990s, when Rouben Sarkisian came to the U.S. with Anoush. They had three daughters together. He divorced Anoush and remarried a U.S. citizen, which put him on a path to citizenship. Anoush sought political asylum from the U.S. government, but after nearly nine years lost her case. The government ordered her deported in 1999, but she thought the case was under appeal until 2003, when she sought legal counsel and discovered that her former attorney had never pursued an appeal.
Rouben has become a U.S. citizen and petitioned for Emma’s and Mariam’s citizenship. But that will take years. The daughters won’t be able to file similar petitions for their mother until they are citizens themselves. The eldest U.S.-born daughter, Michelle, can’t petition for her mother to become a citizen until she turns 21 — in four years. Rouben can’t petition for Anoush because they are divorced.
Baziyants, Anoush’s attorney, filed his recent appeal with the Board of Immigration Appeals invoking a law meant, in part, for people from former Soviet republics. Attorneys incorrectly advised her more than a decade ago that she wasn’t eligible for help under this law.
As for the appeal, the board told Baziyants that rulings aren’t made quickly on appeals unless a person is detained. So only bringing Anoush to authorities on July 6 would force the board to make an emergency decision, an official told the lawyer.
A pending appeal “does not, however, preclude removal,” Pat Reilly, a spokeswoman for ICE, noted in an e-mail to the Sun.
Harout Markarian, executive director of the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church, is not optimistic. The diocese, with 500,000 followers in the Los Angeles area alone, pleaded this year with Sen. Reid’s staff to consider the humanitarian issues involved in separating the family.
But now, Markarian said, “We’ve been in touch with prominent immigration lawyers and judges ... and it seems that immigration authorities have cut off all avenues.”
Markarian receives calls from the eldest Sarkisian daughters daily, finding them in tears.
On Wednesday, Emma accompanied Anoush to a doctor, trying to understand the medical implications of putting her mother through the stress and strain of being deported. The family hoped authorities would take this into consideration. The doctor found her short of breath and ordered her admitted to a hospital. On Thursday afternoon, a cardiologist had ordered an echocardiogram and results of an earlier stress test.
Emma was beside herself and red-eyed. This should be a weekend for Armenian shish kebabs and American fireworks in the family’s back yard. Normally it’s a double affair, because her sister Elizabeth’s birthday is the 5th. She turns 17 on Sunday.
This year, Emma said, “nobody feels like celebrating.”