The parents of Ewelina Bledniak have made plans to accompany the girl next month to their native Poland, where they will be forced to leave her while she petitions for legal status in America through the U.S. embassy in Warsaw. Such status would have been granted to her in 2001 had the family's former lawyer promptly filed the proper petition, the girl's mother, Agnus Bledniak, said.
Although the girl had lived in the United States since she was 2, the Bledniaks said they did not know her petition for legal status had not been accepted until early last year when they received a letter from U.S. immigration services.
"We got papers that she could not be approved for a green card," Agnus Bledniak said of the permanent resident card issued to non-citizens.
When her husband, Hubert, investigated, Bledniak said, they found the petition on behalf of their daughter was never even considered because it had been filed too late.
"We didn't know she sent our papers too late," Bledniak said of the lawyer. "If we could have found out earlier, she probably would have a green card a long time ago."
The lawyer's office declined to comment, citing attorney-client privilege.
The parents plan to leave Ewelina with her grandmother, the only person she knows in Poland, because her father must return home to run his tile business and Bledniak is worried that her own legal status, won three years ago, would delay her quest for U.S. citizenship.
According to the family's new lawyer, Maria Odom, Ewelina is likely to wait for at least a year in Poland while her green card petition is processed.
"We've got a normal life and everything," Agnus Bledniak said. "We pay taxes. We try to be good citizens ... [Ewelina] is very upset. She's got her whole school here. It's not very happy."
In 2000, Ewelina's father brought her and her mother into the United States illegally through Mexico, Odom said. He became a lawful permanent resident in 1992 and a citizen in 2006.
In 2001, the family said it hired the first immigration lawyer to take advantage of a temporary provision in the 2000 Naturalization and Immigration Act that allowed illegal immigrants to pay a $1,000 fine and petition for legal status.
Unbeknown to the Bledniaks, the provision's April 30, 2001, expiration date came and went without Ewelina's petition.
There's no record of the petition, according to Odom, the family's new lawyer.
For years, the Bledniaks of Cummings, Ga., did not question the silence from immigration services.
"We know that it takes time," Agnus Bledniak said. "We were just waiting."
The Bledniaks first inquired about Ewelina's legal status when Agnus Bledniak was granted citizenship three years ago. That inquiry prompted immigration officials to investigate and, when they discovered Ewelina was still an illegal immigrant, to eventually notify the family that the girl would have to be deported, Odom said.
Since the deadline for the petition was years past, the Bledniaks simply do not have any recourse at this point, Odom said.
Ewelina was taken before a local judge, who granted the family a July 23 deadline to prove someone had petitioned on Ewelina's behalf before the April 30, 2001 deadline, Odom said.
"She had to go to court and she had to stand there and confess I don't even know what because she didn't do anything," Agnus Bledniak said.
But, according to Odom, the law provides no wiggle room for those who missed the petition period.
"[Ewelina] has no ability to legalize here," Odom said. "The judge's hands are tied. We advised the parents that they transfer their petition for green card to Poland. The case is a little stuck."