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Questions Arise About Immigration Status Of Santillan Family

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The parents of a teen transplant victim who recently died admit they came to the United States illegally to try and save their daughter's life. However under federal law, anyone caught doing that must leave -- either voluntarily or through deportation.

Attorneys tell WRAL that since so many illegal aliens are in the United States, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) often goes after those with criminal records first. But media attention involving Jesica Santillan's family could now force the agency's hand.

Under its bylaws, the INS has what is called prosecutorial discretion, which means it can refrain from exercising its law enforcement authority against a particular person on a case-by-case basis. Considering Jesica's desperate need for a heart and lungs, a former INS attorney told WRAL he probably would have backed away from trying to deport the family. However, now that she has died, the situation is more complex.

The INS would not talk specifically about the Santillans, however a spokesman for the Executive Office for Immigration Review said his office has no record of the Santillans. He said that means prior to the transplant, INS officials were not formally involved with the family.

Officials with the Mexican Consulate said they are unsure about the family's legal status. They believe Mack Mahoney, a friend of the Santillan family, has filed for a work visa on their behalf.

The Santillan family said they plan to bury Jesica in Louisburg.


Cullen Browder, Reporter
Kamal Wallace, Web Editor

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