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Prospects rosy for teen's green card.

Byline: Jeff Wright The Register-Guard

SPRINGFIELD - Kevin Cruz begins eighth grade today with plenty of ambitions: mastering algebra, playing soccer and getting his green card.

Things have been looking up for the 13-year-old ever since a federal immigration judge ruled last month that deportation proceedings against him should be terminated. That means that the Briggs Middle School student can seek legal permanent residency - a green card - and even apply for U.S. citizenship when he turns 18.

He also can continue to visit, but not yet live with, his biological mother, Antonia Cruz of Springfield.

In a heart-wrenching decision, Antonia Cruz last year gave up her parental rights in hopes that doing so would improve her son's chances of avoiding deportation. The Lane County Juvenile Court granted temporary guardianship of Kevin to Blanca Berguin, a friend who, like Antonia Cruz, is originally from El Salvador.

But while Berguin is a legal U.S. resident, Antonia Cruz is not. She has protected temporary status that could be revoked at any time.

Kevin, whose plight was first reported in The Register-Guard last fall, has spent most of the past year with his "new" family - Berguin, her husband, Jimmie, and their four children. It has been a mostly smooth transition, Berguin says, thanks to everyone's adaptability.

"This is his house, he's like a brother to my kids and they get along," she says. "I am happy with him, I have no complaints. Well, I do have one complaint: I can't get him to read enough."

Kevin is one of those kids who's unfailingly polite in the presence of adults, easy-going and irreverent among his peers. He's honest when asked by a visitor how he's spent his summer: "Relaxing, sleeping and watching lots of TV," he says.

He says the toughest part of living with the Berguins is sharing a room with 15-year-old Matthew. "He's pretty bossy," says Kevin, who smiles and glances over to make sure Matthew's listening.

When it comes to school, Kevin is no slouch - earning A's and B's and winning laurels from teachers who praise his language skills, cheerful nature and work ethic. This year, surrogate mom Berguin is pushing for a perfect report card, reckoning that it will only strengthen Kevin's chances for scholarships and college.

"I'm not going to pay him, but I'm going to give him a surprise if he brings me all A's," she says.

A college education was a distant dream three years ago when Kevin was stopped at the U.S.-Mexican border as he tried to enter the country illegally. He previously lived in El Salvador with his grandmother, who was battling diabetes and could no longer care for him, family members said.

Antonia Cruz rushed to the Arizona border to reunite with her son, who was granted legal entry and a one-year "humanitarian" parole. A deportation tug-of-war soon emerged.

Raquel Hecht, Kevin's immigration attorney in Eugene, says she's grateful that the legal ordeal appears to have reached an end. "This was the right thing to do for this kid," she says. "He had no place else to go. We had to do something and I'm glad that everyone eventually agreed that this was the best thing."

Hecht says it's unclear, however, when Kevin might be allowed to return to live with his biological mother. A petition can be filed with the juvenile court once Kevin receives his green card, presumably in the next several months, to end his temporary guardianship. But there's no guarantee that such a petition would be granted.

"He is ensconced with the Berguin family, and his mother may not be able to stay here," Hecht says. "He could end up living with this family for many years to come - at least long enough to finish his education. It all depends on what's in his best interests."

Antonia Cruz, who moved to the local area 10 years ago, is working to improve her own lot. Employed for years as a furniture finisher, she completed a program at Lane Community College and now works as a phlebotomist - the same line of work done by Blanca Berguin.

Antonia Cruz, who lives with her daughter and boyfriend, says she's delighted by the court's ruling. "My reaction is I'm so happy, so excited for Kevin, because finally he's going to have the residency."

Besides, it's not as if she never sees her son - she saw him most recently Wednesday night, when her family and the Berguins gathered at a pizza parlor to celebrate her daughter Jennifer's seventh birthday.

Kevin, presumably, approved of the venue. Ten years from now, he hopes to have a college degree, a job as a lawyer or real estate agent, and U.S. citizenship. One of the perks of citizenship, he says, is he could visit other parts of the world - with Italy at the top of his list.

"I've had some really good food from there," he explains.
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Title Annotation:Minorities; A ruling clears the way for the boy's application for permanent residency
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Sep 7, 2006
Words:820
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