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Legal residency does not mean citizenship

In light of the recent story on the pending deportation of Komdown “Dow” Boyer, there have been many questions and concerns regarding her past and current status of citizenship. When it comes to immigration laws, it can be very confusing, unless of course you are an immigration lawyer.

Migrant and Immigrant Community Action Project Co-Director Jessica Mayo, who is representing Dow, gave a breakdown on the case to help those with questions or concerns to better understand the situation.

“Mrs. Boyer came to the United States when she was a young child (I believe she was 9 years old). Her U.S. citizen step-father met Dow’s mother when he was on active duty with the U.S. Air Force. He and Dow’s mother married, and he brought Dow and her mother (his wife) to the United States on immigrant visas. When you come to the United States with an immigrant visa, you become a Legal Permanent Resident (LPR), which is usually referred to as a green card holder,” said Mayo.

Boyer became a U.S. permanent resident (green card holder) when she entered the United States from Thailand in 1979.

LPRs have permanent legal status to live and work in the United States. They are eligible to become U.S. citizens three to five years after entering the United States, depending on the situation. LPRs are subject to deportation if they commit certain crimes; U.S. citizens are not subject to deportation.

Mayo said immigration law is not so black and white and they don’t typically use the term “illegal” because she is still here.

“A lot of people don’t understand that about the law though. There are a lot of people who have green cards and they are here legally but they’re not citizens. Becoming a citizen is a different step. After her immigration court case she no longer has a green card, but she has always had a green card which made her a legal resident of the United States, she just wasn’t a citizen,” said Mayo.

Dow came in with an immigrant visa, got a green card and could have become a citizen at any time but she didn’t know she wasn’t a citizen so she never took those extra steps to apply. When immigrants are issued green cards they are issued a Social Security number as well.

“Mrs. Boyer did not realize that she was not a U.S. citizen. She came to the United States as a young girl. She always used her step-father’s last name and assumed that she had derived citizenship from him. Had she known that she was not a citizen, she would have applied to become a U.S. citizen long ago.” Mayo continued. “Mrs. Boyer has a final order from the Immigration Judge. She no longer is an LPR and she is subject to deportation at any time. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has the authority to deport her at any time. They are probably working on arranging travel documents for her.”

According to ICE, U.S. permanent residency is a form of legal residency that carries a significant responsibility for those to whom it is granted. Criminal convictions for certain aggravated felonies can result in the revocation of this government-bestowed immigration benefit and ultimately lead to deportation from the United States.

ICE Public Affairs Officer Shawn Neudauer said Dow was convicted in Missouri of aggravated felony theft (in excess of $25,000) in December 2013. This crime involved the thefts from CiCi’s in Farmington

“As a result of this conviction, she was arrested by ICE officers March 13, 2014, and was ordered to appear before a federal immigration judge. On May 6, the immigration judge ordered her to be deported. Ms. Boyer has agreed to waive her legal right to appeal this decision,” said Neudauer.

ICE is currently working to secure her deportation to Thailand.

Dow’s husband, Justin, is in the process of filing a Stay of Deportation, which is a request that ICE delay the deportation. This would allow Justin to obtain passports so that he and his daughter could travel with Dow to Thailand. There’s a possibility that Dow could remain in the United States longer if ICE grants her an Order of Supervision or if she obtains something called Deferred Action (which is not exactly the same as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals).

“Regarding her crime, Mrs. Boyer turned herself in, took full responsibility for her actions, and has been paying restitution. Due to the family’s situation and her complete unfamiliarity with Thailand, it is unlikely that she will be able to continue paying restitution if she is deported,” said Mayo.

There are a number of different options and possibilities that could prevent her from being deported. The one possibility is she could stay here even with the order of deportation, that ICE could let her stay temporarily and give her a work card temporarily so she can keep paying back the restitution. In the long term she would need to get the criminal case taken care of in order to be able to stay here long term and then she could potentially get her green card given back.

“What we are working on and her family is working on getting is if ICE will allow her to stay and then they would potentially give her a work permit depending on how things play out. She wouldn’t necessarily have a green card or visa but she would be allowed to stay here and work. So that doesn’t make you illegal if you are allowed to stay, but she wouldn’t have legal status. It’s one of those words that are used a lot in normal speech, but not by lawyers because it’s not descriptive of a certain way of being. Certainly having a green card is not being illegal,” said Mayo.

There is still a possibility that she is still a citizen, but they don’t have any proof of that. The laws are really complicated about how a person becomes a citizen and they haven’t been able to find any documentation about whether she was formerly adopted by her step-father and even if she was formerly adopted they still have to go back and research the laws from the 1970s when she came to the United States or when the adoption took place.

“It’s a very complicated issue and the fact that she had her step-father’s last name leads you to believe there was a formal adoption. At this point we have another attorney who is working on that part of the case by researching the law in Thailand from the 1970s to try to figure out what their adoption laws were and whether they may have been formalized there. The research will not be easy,” said Mayo.

The MICA Project is a nonprofit community organization that works with low-income immigrants, providing legal representation for immigration cases. Donations help them represent and support individuals like Dow who are facing deportation, as well as those seeking immigration benefits like citizenship. They also do community outreach on immigration issues. Dow is represented by the MICA Project and co-counsel Javad Khazaeli of Khazaeli Wyrsch.

It was a very emotional visit for Dow's sons (right) Derrick Satterfeild, 18, (middle) Kodi Satterfeild, 20, daughter Jordin Boyer, 5 and (left) husband Justin Boyer. The visit took place on Mother's Day. Dow could have been deported at any time. 

It was a very emotional visit for Dow’s sons (right) Derrick Satterfeild, 18, (middle) Kodi Satterfeild, 20, daughter Jordin Boyer, 5 and (left) husband Justin Boyer. The visit took place on Mother’s Day. Dow could have been deported at any time. 

Renee Bronaugh is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-518-3617 or

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