Lauren Gray will be celebrating her 21st birthday very soon. At a time when most young girls her age would be painting the town and revving up for the last legal border in life, Lauren is faced with a mountainous challenge. She could possibly be deported.
Lauren has been in the United States, living in Trenton, since she was four years old. He parents, Ali and Ian, came to the U.S. on an E2 work visa, bringing with them her and her younger sister Gemma, from England.
At that point, her parents took over a small restaurant and hotel in Trenton. Since her and her sister were minor dependents, the two were allowed to live under their parents.
In 2003, Lauren's grandparents began to apply for citizenship for their whole family.
By most standards, Lauren is as American as any other child growing up in the States; attending elementary, middle and high school here. When it came time to choose a college, Lauren followed her dreams of becoming a classical dancer and enrolled in Stephens College in Columbia; a struggle, because she did not qualify for federal aid in the United States, due to her lack of citizenship.
Over a decade later, Lauren still lives under her parent's work visa, therefore she can't legally work in the U.S. and can't help her parents pay for her education or to support herself after graduation. Yet, they still wait on their application for citizenship.
Lauren graduated from Stephens on May 5 of this year, with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance, and a minor in Integrated Media.
Lauren's a dancer.
"There's no better way to express emotions," said Lauren about her dancing. "I can make people feel something without words when I dance."
Lauren describes her ultimate dream if she gets to stay in the United States as being a dancer in New York City.
So what now?
The DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) was the next step for Lauren.
Under the DREAM Act, illegal aliens with good moral character, who graduate from high schools in the United States, who have arrived in the United States as minors, and who have lived in the country continuously for at least five years prior to the bill's enactment (which was originally in 2001), would be allowed a temporary residency in the US. If that same illegal alien were to complete two years in the military or two years at a four-year institution of higher learning, they would obtain temporary residency for a six-year period.
During that time, they may then qualify for permanent residency if they have earned a higher education degree, or have completed at least two years, in good standing, in a program for a bachelor's degree or higher degree in the United States, or have served in the armed forces for two years.
Lauren fits those exact criteria. She attended elementary through high school here. She attended a four-year college and earned a higher education degree from that college. She has a very good standing within the community and is very motivated to become a contributing citizen as an adult.
However, one word in the DREAM Act stops Lauren's check list before it starts; the word "illegal."
Lauren is a legal immigrant of the United States.
Senators can expedite the process of Lauren getting back in the states on the chance that she has to return to England.
In seeking this direction, she has gotten a lot of negative feedback
"I'm not a citizen of the United States, so I guess they don't care," she said, when referring to the assistance she is trying to get from congress and senators.
"I feel extremely unwanted, and feel pushed out," she said. "It feels as though thousands of doors are shutting."
Lauren is receiving a little help —bi-partisan help. Senator Claire McCaskill (D), Senator Roy Blunt (R) and Congressman Sam Graves (R) are providing assistance in Lauren's fight to stay stateside.
Lauren and her mother also made a trip to Washington recently, leaving just Sunday and returning Tuesday of this week. On Monday, they spoke with the House representatives that dealt with immigration laws. On Tuesday, they spoke with Senators — mostly Blunt and McCaskill.
"Nothing is being set in stone yet," said Lauren's mother, Ali, "but they are working towards a solution. We should know by the 8th."
At that point, Lauren and her family are hoping that they will know if she has some sort of reprieve to stay and work in the U.S. legally.
"It's been very helpful that both offices are working for us," said Ali, who stated that this all seemed like a big maze, with the hardest part being the wait.
Congressman Graves and his staff have been working with the Gray family since 2009, to assist them with the immigration process, in hopes that Lauren's visa would be processed before she turned 21.
"As Lauren's birthday approached, our office was in touch with the State Department about her case," said Melissa Roe, Deputy Chief of Staff for Sam Graves. "We helped the Gray family identify all options for legally remaining in the country, and continuing to pursue a green card."
Last week, staff attended a Trenton City Council meeting to update them on Congressman Graves' efforts on behalf of the family.
Today, Thursday, the office will be delivering signed petitions to the State Department that have been gathered in support of Lauren.
"We are all just treading water to see what the results are," said Ali.
"I really hoped we've helped with the big issue. It was very shocking to go to Washington and see how far apart the people are in their attitudes towards immigration, but we made them think about it for at least a day or two."
Does she go over and wait it out? Go back and play it by ear? What's the next step? They are all questions Lauren asks herself.
"How can I start a life in a country I'm being forced to move to?" asks Lauren.
So how do she and her family prepare for the days ahead?
"It's difficult to prepare," said Ali. "It's a roller coaster. We'll be scrambling around to either get a ticket or to pack her bags and leave."
Ali said that they can't really plan — that if they start planning in one direction, then things may turn around.
She did say that Lauren is trying to prepare to go to London, and hopes to be able to change direction and stay.
"We try and live our lives to make the best of the situation, to find the positive in whichever situation," said Ali.
In the event she does return to London, Ali's sister, Lauren's aunt, Sue Withers, is there, waiting.
If Lauren ends up in London, she will try and start her career as a dancer there.
If she stays in the States, she will try and start her career as a dancer here.
She has already auditioned for Disney in Florida, and has another audition in Branson. Lauren is just hoping to get her foot in the door and to go from there.
"She's going to make it happen wherever she is," said Ali.
"Scared is an understatement," said Lauren, about being deported. "It's terrifying to think I won't have my support system. I have my family; which I know will be here [in the States]."
Lauren and her family are very close-knit. She becomes emotional when thinking of how hard it is going to be without them by her side if she does return to London.
"Immigration has always been in the back of my mind," said Lauren, "and it's a very frightening feeling."
A feeling that, if something isn't done, her sister Gemma will also face in about three years.