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::BRENDA CASTEN::


source : The Coloradoan
Brenda Casten might have to leave the only country she's ever known in order to legally live in it.

But doing that could potentially threaten her life.
Casten, a 24-year-old Fort Collins resident with three children, has been diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, a cancer of the bone marrow and blood.

She has received chemotherapy for the aggressive disease but may need a bone marrow transplant if she is to overcome it.

But Casten, who has lived in the United States since she was 2 years old, is not a citizen. She spent part of her childhood in Colorado's foster care system, she said, but the paperwork that would have established her citizenship was never filed.

As a result, she is considered an illegal immigrant. She's never had a Social Security number or any form of government-issued identification.
"I guess I just fell through the cracks," she said. "It's something that I live every day. ... This country is all I've known, but in this country I don't exist because of a technicality."

Casten's immigration status makes her ineligible for health insurance coverage through her husband's work. Sean Casten, 37, is an account executive with All Copy Products.

She has been able to receive chemotherapy through the Charity Assistance Program and Poudre Valley Hospital. The treatments have put the disease into remission, but there's a strong chance it could return.

A bone marrow transplant, which Sean Casten said could cost between $250,000 and $1 million, would have to be done at another hospital. Without insurance, it's an impossible cost to bear.

She may need a transplant within a year, Sean Casten said.
"We're scraping together our last dollars just to keep the chemo going," he said. "If we get too far into debt, they could stop the chemo, as well."

The family has been selling donated T-shirts and bracelets to raise money.
The Castens recently started working with a lawyer who is working pro bono to help them get through the complexities of the immigration process.

Under federal regulations, Sean Casten must petition to have his wife considered for citizenship. But she has to be in the country legally to be considered.

Brenda Casten would have to go to Mexico and apply for a residency visa through the American Embassy.
How long that approval would take depends on the backlog of applications, said Maria Elena Upson, a public information officer with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service.

Once legal residency is established, Casten would have to wait three years before she could apply for citizenship because she is married to an American citizen. Others have to wait five years.

The prospect of going to Mexico, where she has no connections or family, is "scary," Casten said. She speaks little Spanish.
"It would be like taking someone and putting them in China," she said. "Nothing is the same; the living is not the same. ... I'm American."

Few remedies

Sean and Brenda Casten have been married two years.
Sean Casten said he hopes a way can be found to expedite the process of establishing legal residency for Brenda.

One option is to pursue a U visa, which is a process for victims of domestic violence or human trafficking.

Brenda Casten's first husband was deported because of domestic violence against her, Sean Casten said.

Another option may be for a member of Congress to carry a "private relief bill" that would clear away some federal red tape.

But private relief bills rarely are passed by both houses of Congress, said Mike Bennett, district director for Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo.

Since 2005, only three private relief bills of the 493 that were introduced were adopted.

Rather than pursue a private bill, residents with immigration issues are better served working with a lawyer who knows the ins and outs of immigration regulations, he said.

Immigration regulations include exceptions for any number of situations - including personal safety - but not medical conditions, Upson said.

Family matters

Casten said her biological parents brought her to Iowa from Mexico when they illegally entered the country more than 20 years ago. They abandoned Casten when she was 5 years old.

She lived with grandparents until she was about 13 years old. She then went into foster care. When she was 17, she ran away from her last placement and vanished from the social service system.

Children of illegal immigrants who end up "wards of the state" do not automatically attain citizenship, said Ginny Riley, director of human services with Larimer County.
The naturalization process can take years, she said. Once a person turns 18 years old, in most cases he or she is responsible for pursuing citizenship.

Sean Casten said he doesn't understand how his wife could live in this country, attend schools and be part of the community since she was a child and now face deportation.

"It's a failure of our system that she's been put in a situation where she may lose her life because she's not eligible for benefits a natural-born citizen would have," he said.

The Castens children are 7, 6 and 2 years old. The 6-year-old, Andrew, has multiple health problems, including diabetes and autism.

They don't understand what is happening with her health, Casten said. They wouldn't understand if she had to go away.
"The worst part is this isn't happening to me, it's happening to my kids," she said.
 
@BrendaCasten (on Twitter)

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