The state's highest-ranking elected officials are rallying to halt the deportation of a Mexican-born college student, wading into the national immigration debate with pleas for an undocumented youth the governor says is "for all intents and purposes" an American.
The student, 23-year-old Mariano Cardoso, has lived in the United States since his family entered the country illegally when he was a toddler. He is due to graduate next month from Capitol Community College in Hartford with an engineering degree.
In discussions with federal immigration officials, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, both Democrats, have highlighted Cardoso's personal achievements in asking for him to be allowed to stay. On Wednesday, Malloy wrote a letter formally asking the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to defer the deportation.
Cardoso, in an interview Wednesday, said, "I'm really surprised and glad there is something happening for me and I'm not alone."
Cardoso is facing deportation any day after losing a legal battle to stay in the country. Blumenthal, however, said discussions with federal officials have made him optimistic there is no imminent plan to send Cardoso back to Mexico. He said his office will remain vigilant.
"We have been involved very closely," Blumenthal said. "I happened to meet Mariano and learned about what he's done, his studies and his background, and his story is a very compelling one."
The office of Sen. Joe Lieberman also has sought a solution to the case, according to spokeswoman Whitney Phillips, who said it highlights why the independent U.S. senator supports comprehensive immigration reform.
A spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said he could not immediately comment on the case.
Cardoso said his troubles started in August 2008, when immigration agents went into his uncle's backyard during a family gathering. The agents said they were looking for a woman identified as a drug dealer and asked to search the house, but he and his uncle refused because they didn't have a search warrant. The agents then demanded their documents and arrested Cardoso after discovering his illegal status.
He said he was optimistic the deportation order would be reversed up until two months ago, when his attorney advised him that any further appeals would be fruitless. In a last-ditch effort to stay, he decided to begin telling his story publicly.
A national advocacy organization, United We Dream, started a petition on his behalf, and a student group at Trinity College, Stop the Raids, has demonstrated to support his cause.
Malloy and both senators say they support the DREAM Act, legislation that would provide a path to citizenship for certain young people such as Cardoso who were brought to this country at a young age. It has failed to pass Congress several times, most recently in December. A week ago, Blumenthal was among senators who wrote President Barack Obama to ask that he grant a stay of removal for all young people who meet the requirements of the proposed legislation.
"For all intents and purposes, Mariano is American," Malloy said in a statement. "To send him back to a country he has no recollection of and did not grow up in makes little sense, particularly as he is finishing his degree and looking to contribute to his community and this state."
"Congress needs to address immigration reform in a comprehensive and commonsense manner, but until that happens, we cannot allow young men and women like Mariano, who, through no fault of their own, were brought here as children, lose this chance at a better life," Malloy said.
Cardoso, whose family hails from Puebla in southern Mexico, said his grandfather and a few aunts still live there but he doesn't really know them.
"If I were to go there I don't really know what I'd do," he said. "I wouldn't know where to go to school, where to find a career."
If allowed to stay in the United States, he said, he hopes to become a civil engineer and eventually a math teacher.