Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes
LOGAN, Utah (AP) -- Until she returned from a brief visit to Mexico, Utah State University student Heilit Martinez thought she was a 20-year-old legal resident of the United States.
But since being detained by border officials, she has learned she is 18 and an illegal resident.
She faces possible deportation unless a bill by Sen. Orrin Hatch passes.
"When I was in junior high, I felt the way most Americans do about the Mexicans crossing the border," said Martinez. "I felt all the illegal aliens should be deported. My parents would laugh when I said that."
Martinez said she had known one of her parents was a Venezuelan and the other was a German citizen. She understood that she also was a German citizen, but she had never lived in that country and her family moved to the United States from Venezuela when she was 2.
She grew up in West Valley City.
"Up until I was 12, I thought I was an American," she said. When she found out she wasn't a U.S. citizen, her parents told her she was a legal resident.
"I look like everyone else. I have no accent when I speak English. I know as much U.S. history as the average Joe, if not more. I've been singing the national anthem since my lungs let me and I knew the words," Martinez said. "I've just always felt it -- American."
She had a Social Security card from her father. When she asked about her alien resident card, he told her it was lost, she said.
At USU, she landed a job as a resident assistant in Valley View towers. In October, she attended a conference in New Mexico for resident assistants and she and the other USU student made a quick trip across the border to Mexico.
When they returned and were questioned by U.S. border agents, she said she was a German citizen. The border officials could not find her listed in a database of permanent foreign residents. She was taken into custody and was told she was in the United States illegally.
"They said, 'Right now we are waiting for your passport to come to deport you. You don't belong here and you have no right to be here,'" Martinez recalled.
Martinez said she tried to call her parents and they hung up on her.
She then contacted a sister and an uncle, who told her the immigration officials were right.
Sen. Orrin Hatch has introduced a special bill that would give her an immigrant visa or otherwise make her a legal resident. If the bill doesn't pass, the 18-year-old Martinez will be deported, possibly to Germany or Venezuela.
Meanwhile, she still attends USU, but can't legally work. Though she still carries on with her day-to-day activities, she knows her future is not in her hands.
"Now I realize there's more to each situation," she said. "I see so much more to this picture."
(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)