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Immigrants’ Son Struggled for Legal Status


Fernando Guadarrama was 12 when he decided he couldn’t stay in America illegally any longer.

Now, after returning to Mexico without his parents and waiting for three years, he is back with a document declaring his legal permanent residency and attending high school.

Years earlier, his father, Gustavo, had emigrated from Mexico and became an American citizen. His father filed papers to bring his wife, Margarita, and son, Fernando, into the country. Because of an error on his application, only the mother was granted permission.

So, Fernando, now 15, came to the U.S. with his mother anyway. He became one of at least 12 million immigrants in the United States without legal status, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

Even as a child, the Spotsylvania County student recognized the stigma of his status and had begun to worry about his future and his dream of going to college and becoming a dentist.


Fernando convinced his parents to let him go back to Mexico to apply to enter America legally. He moved in with his elderly grandparents, on a ranch outside Mexico City.

As the waiting turned to years, the boy became depressed and homesick. Several times, people making the trek into the United States illegally asked him to come along. Fernando said he missed his parents and younger brother and sister — both born in America — so much, he almost did it..

“But I had to be strong,” he said.

This past September, almost three years after he left Spotsylvania, he sat through a week’s worth of appointments at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office in Juarez… He was fingerprinted and interviewed and received seven immunizations in one arm.

He left on Sept. 25 with a “green card,” as a legal permanent resident of the United States.

“I thought, all the time I waited, it was so much worth it,” Fernando said.

Fernando’s parents paid almost $4,000 for fees, immunizations and travel expenses. The amount didn’t include legal fees because Rappahannock Legal Services, which provides assistance to low-income residents, handled his case.

The parents had also agonized during the years their oldest child was away.

“Now we are thankful that, all together, we can work hard to have the American dream,” said Gustavo, through an interpreter.

Now that he’s met his legal goal, Fernando is focusing on his education and hopes to become a citizen some day.

When he returned to Massaponax High School last fall, he went into ninth-grade classes because his English skills were so strong, said Luisa Menares, Spanish interpreter for Spotsylvania schools. She wondered why he hadn’t forgotten English, and Fernando told her he helped teach English to his Mexican classmates.

“It shows his strength of character,” she said.

Fernando’s teachers also have been impressed. Debra Nay, his algebra teacher, hadn’t heard about his legal issues, but she knew there was something special about him.

“You can sometimes tell when a student is going to go somewhere,” she said. “He’s going to be one of them.”

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