May 19, 2006 — -- Manuel Bartsch has dreamed of graduating from high school and going to college for as long as he can remember. Half of that dream will come true tonight, when he graduates from Pandora-Gilboa High School in northwest Ohio.
The other half of the dream hangs in the balance. The 18-year-old faces deportation, because unknown to him until six months ago when he was jailed for more than two weeks by immigration officials, he is not a legal U.S. resident.
Manuel is an ordinary 18-year-old. He can be found working out on his school's football fields or hitting golf balls with his friends. It wasn't until December 2005 that he realized he was different. He needed his Social Security number to take the college boards and realized he didn't have one -- and it was only then that he learned was not a legal resident of the United States.
He was living with his step-grandfather at the time. The older man had brought him to the United States from Germany, where Manuel had gone through a difficult childhood living with an alcoholic mother and then suffered the death of his grandmother, who was his legal guardian at the time.
Manuel arrived in Ohio in 1997 with his American-born step-grandfather on a temporary visa. Manuel didn't realize it, but the man had never adopted him legally.His legal troubles started when he got a letter from his local immigration office. The letter informed him that he had filled out the wrong form when he applied for a Social Security number. They told him to come in for an appointment to straighten it out.
Manuel was excited about the possibility of getting the Social Security number so he could take his college boards, but when he showed up for the interview he got a shock.
"I got there and they handcuffed me and brought me to jail," he said. He spent the next 16 days behind bars.
Manuel has impressed a lot of people -- leading friends, teachers and politicians to rally together to support him.
"Everyone has been behind me 100 percent," Bartsch said. "I think this experience has brought a lot of people together."
In April, Ohio Sen. Mike DeWine introduced a special bill to help Manuel gain legal status.
"In my opinion, Manuel's status in this country must change," the Republican senator said. "Through no fault of his own, Manuel is not a legal resident of the United States. Had his step-grandfather adopted him, Manuel would be an American citizen today. And, if his step-grandfather had moved to legalize Manuel's status at some point before he turned 18, he would not be subject to deportation today."
Other politicians have shared DeWine's support for the teenager, passing resolutions throughout Ohio urging immigration authorities to let him stay.
DeWine also convinced Senate Judiciary Committee Immigration Subcommittee Chairman John Cornyn, R-Texas, to request a report on the case from theBureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Because of that request, the teenager cannot be deported this year, even if a judge were to order it.
Manuel's future is up in the air. He waits on the outcome of the ongoing legal proceedings, hoping something will be done so he can attend Ohio Northern University, where he was recently accepted and where he hopes to pursue a business or economics degree.
His lawyer, David Leopold, who accepted this case pro-bono, said he's watched Manuel grow up throughout this ordeal.
"He's really become a man throughout this experience," he said.
Leopold also said that included in the immigration bill currently being debated in the Senate is a clause called the Dream Act. This would allow citizenship to Manuel, since he came to the United States before he was 16.
"If the immigration bill passes, it will be a very good thing for Manuel," he said.
As Manuel walks across the stage tonight, he will no doubt get loud cheers.
"It wasn't expected for me to graduate, so tonight means a lot to me," he said.