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Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Immigration anomaly forcing teen back to Denmark, without parents

Immigration anomaly forcing teen back to Denmark, without parents

Immigration anomaly forcing teen back to Denmark, without parents
By Tim O'Meilia
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Helene Jensen, 16, sits in her bedroom with parents Winnie (left) and John. The Dwyer High student is being deported to Denmark because her visa has run out.

PALM BEACH GARDENS — Sixteen-year-old Helene Jensen flies to her native Denmark Thursday, leaving behind her parents, her dog, her boyfriend, her junior year at Dwyer High School and the experimental drug that keeps her well.

She's not leaving by choice. If she stays she'll be illegal, then maybe she would be deported.

No one knows when she'll be allowed to come back. Maybe two years, maybe five.

Through a quirk in immigration law, her family's attorney says, her parents can stay and her older, U.S.-born sister can stay. Helene must go.

"I think it's unfair. It's not fair to take a child from its parents," Helene said Tuesday, sitting on the living room couch, stroking the neck of her terrier, Little Bit. She is keeping a smile on her face.

She fears the Danish winter will accelerate her juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, a disease of the joints that affects 75,000 teens in America, even if they were born in Denmark.

She awoke one morning more than two years ago with a sore and swollen left knee. Soon other joints began to ache. After a succession of bone scans, MRIs and X-rays, a specialist diagnosed her ailment. Traditional drug treatment didn't help or made her sick.

For six months she hobbled on crutches, in pain. Her condition has improved dramatically since she joined the clinical trials of a new drug made by Abbott Laboratories. She can dance and run. But if she's in Denmark, she can't continue the trial because she won't be here for the testing and measurements.

"I still hope for a miracle," said her mother, Winnie. "If people want things to be done quickly, it can be done."

"The law is flawed," said her father, John. "When I tell people the story, they say it can't be true."

Jensen, 49, and his family came to the United States, for the second time, in 1997 on a work visa. He is vice president for operations for Teeters Agency and Stevedoring at the Port of Palm Beach. Helene, then 9, attended Eisenhower Elementary, not knowing a single word of English. Now she speaks without a trace of an accent. "Thank you, Eisenhower," her mother said.

"We love this country. It's been very good to us," said Jensen, who studied for a year in high school in Geneva, Ill., and worked in Connecticut for five years in the 1980s, when daughter Charlotte was born. "When I came here, it felt like home," he said.

His visa, which allows his wife and children to stay here as well, expired in April. Their American-born daughter, Charlotte, 21, sponsored her parents in their application to become permanent residents. They didn't realize Helene would not be included because she is neither a spouse, child or parent of Charlotte.

"She's none of the above. It's such an anomaly in the law," said Maralyn Leaf, a Miami immigration lawyer who represents the family. "Nowhere else in the entire body of immigration law does it expect a person to send their child away."

A spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said no comment could be made on an individual case.

The Jensens also have written local legislators. "It's a really unfortunate situation," said Jill Greenberg, spokeswoman for Florida Sen. Bob Graham. She said Graham's office is studying a legislative fix but it will take time.

"There's been a lot of anger, a lot of frustration," Jensen said.

"A lot of crying," Helene said.

Her bags are packed. Thursday the New York Yankees will lose a fervent fan ("My favorite teams are the Yankees and whoever is playing the Red Sox," she said). It'll take about 24 hours to reach Copenhagen via Newark. Then there's a four-hour train ride to her grandmother's village of Langaa. Helene will take two months' worth of medicine with her. The family is uncertain when she can visit.

"I wish someone could push the magic button," Jensen said. "I know it's doable."

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