LAS VEGAS (AP) – If immigration officials have their way, two sisters who have lived in the United States for more than a decade will be deported to a country so foreign they don’t even speak its language.
The Las Vegas area teenagers were taken into custody Friday by federal agents after authorities determined they didn’t have a right to stay in the country.
Emma Sarkisian, 18, and, sister Mariam, 17, remain at an undisclosed location in Los Angeles while awaiting a judge’s decision on whether to deport them to Armenia, where they were born.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert J. Johnston in Las Vegas granted the sisters a temporary stay Wednesday.
Their lawyer, Jeremiah Wolf Stuchiner, said he intends to immediately file a motion to have the sisters released.
Stuchiner called the circumstances surrounding the deportation proceedings “absolutely ridiculous” and said immigration officials have refused to release the sisters.
The two came to the United States in 1991 on a tourist visa with their family. The family sought political asylum but was denied.
After their parents split, their father married a U.S. citizen and became a legal resident.
But the second marriage fell apart, and the father never became a citizen.
In July, Stuchiner said, the father took the sisters to see immigration officials in Las Vegas to ask about their legal status, believing they were U.S. residents. But the sisters were not and learned they would be deported.
When immigration officials called Armenian authorities, they were told that technically the sisters had been born in the former Soviet Union before Armenia became it’s own country and should be considered Soviet citizens.
After the Armenian government indicated the sisters would not be accepted, U.S. immigration authorities issued an order of supervision, requiring them to check-in with federal officials each month.
Meanwhile, Stuchiner had moved forward with trying to get the sisters’ father U.S. citizenship. Once that happened, he could then petition for his daughters to become residents.
But earlier this month, Armenian officials said the sisters could be deported to the country, and U.S officials began preparing to fly them out of the country before Johnston intervened.
If a hearing in federal court is granted, Stuchiner said he will argue U.S. officials should allow the father to obtain his citizenship and petition for the daughters to remain in the country on humanitarian grounds.