The journey has been long, and the wait agonizing for a young Trenton woman who faced self-deportation as her 21st birthday approached, at which time, she could no longer be covered under her parents' visa; however, thanks to her determination and a whirlwind trip to the nation's capital last week to make an 11th-hour appeal, Lauren Gray was granted a deferral, allowing her to stay legally in the United States, which has been her home since she was four years old.

The announcement came Wednesday, on Lauren's 21st birthday, stating that the Department of Homeland Security had granted Lauren a deferral.

"I am so happy," Lauren Gray said, in a conference call Wednesday with U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill; her mother, Ali Gray; and members of the media. "I never dreamed I could get it accomplished. I am glad I stayed with it."

In 1995, at four years of age, Lauren moved with her parents and younger sister from England, and settled in the small northwest Missouri community of Trenton. There, her parents were granted a temporary E-2 investor visa, and took over operation of Lakeview Motor Lodge and Restaurant — a business they continue to operate today. Lauren and her sister were allowed to stay in the U.S. legally as dependents under their parents' visa.

In 2003, Lauren's grandparents — who had become naturalized U.S. citizens — applied for "green cards" for their entire family, so that they could obtain permanent resident status. Nine years later, Lauren and her family, although approved for green cards, are still waiting for their cards. The process is long, because only a certain number of people each year are granted green cards, and the requests for them far exceed the number of green cards available. According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, authorities are processing green cards for people who applied in May 2002 in the same status category as the Grays. On Wednesday, Lauren "aged out," and could no longer be covered under her parents' visa.

Even a new immigration policy implemented this summer, called "deferred action," which specifically addresses individuals who came to the United States as children, did not allow Lauren to qualify because (1) Lauren entered the U.S. lawfully; and, (2) she was lawfully living in the U.S. as of June 15, 2012. Following the criteria set forth for deferred action, Lauren could have qualified had she entered the U.S. without inspection, or if her lawful immigration status had expired as of June 15, 2012.

Last week, Lauren and her mother traveled to Washington, D.C., and met with McCaskill, as well as Sen. Roy Blunt and Congressman Sam Graves.

McCaskill said that after meeting with the Gray family, she asked her staff to being working on Lauren's request.

After her staff contacted officials from the DHS, and McCaskill spoke to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, it was determined that Lauren was eligible for a deferral that would allow her to remain legally in the country. After discussing the situation with Lauren, her family, and McCaskill's office, the DHS granted Lauren a renewable two-year deferral, that will allow her to legally remain inside the United States without jeopardizing her ongoing efforts to become a citizen. She will also be eligible to apply for a work permit.

It is likely that her family's turn for green cards won't come for another 18 months.

McCaskill said Napolitano agreed that "it is young women like Lauren — who have been such great members of their community — that we want in the United States of America."

"I'm very pleased that she will remain in the only country she has ever known, and continue to be an important part of her community in the years ahead," McCaskill said.

Ali Gray expressed appreciation to those who helped make Lauren's voice heard, including members of the media who reported on Lauren's situation, which gained national attention. The Chillicothe Constitution-Tribune was among the newspapers publishing a story, and also took a stand editorially, advocating a change in the new immigration deferral policy.

"I am extremely grateful for your help... the local support and the media support. I couldn't be happier," Ali Gray said during the conference call with McCaskill and the media.

"The entire community rallied around Lauren and her family," McCaskill said. "She is a part of the fabric of that community, and we should be welcoming people like Lauren."

Lauren graduated from Stephens College in Columbia, Mo., and said she wants to pursue a career as a classical dancer in America. She is a student of Ballet Arts Center for Dance in Chillicothe.