Dec 12, 2013 5:10 PM by David Randall
TUCSON, Ariz. - She was an Arizona DPS detective with an exemplary record, but now Carmen Figueroa's identity is stripped away and her future is uncertain.
Figueroa, 42, was born in Sinaloa, Mexico, then brought to the United States as a child. She claims her family members had always told her she was U.S. citizen. But she learned the truth when the state department processed a visa application from her brother, who is serving in the U.S. military.
Figueroa resigned Monday, but according to DPS officials, she would have been fired if she hadn't stepped down. Arizona law requires sworn police officers to be U.S. citizens and DPS would have terminated her for fraud and misrepresentation for "not meeting the qualifications."
So what is next for Figueroa?
"A situation like this where someone has been in the U.S. for 30 or 40 years believing that they're a U.S. citizen is pretty rare," says Maurice Goldman, an immigration lawyer in Tucson.
Goldman says when Figueroa came to the U.S. it was much easier for a person to slip through the cracks. "If you're looking back 20 or 30 years ago, the state and federal laws were more relaxed when it came to issuing a driver's license or social security number," Goldman says.
He says if Figueroa doesn't have any outstanding criminal violations, she most likely won't face criminal charges. Depending on her family situation, she may face deportation. "A lot depends on whether or not the Department of Homeland Security wants to go after her," Goldman says.
He says if Figueroa has a family member, such as a spouse, who is a U.S. citizen, she might be able to apply for a green card. If not, she might be able to apply for a work permit.
The fear of deportation is a fear Jessica Garcia knows all too well. Garcia, 22, is an undocumented student. Her mother brought her to the U.S. nine years ago. "I mean it would definitely be hard on me," Garcia says. "My mom is the only thing I have here. It would break my heart."
Garcia has deferred action status, which went into effect in June. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano announced that certain young people who were brought to the U.S. as young children, do not present a risk to national security or public safety, and meet several key criteria, will be considered for relief from removal from the country or from entering into removal proceedings.
Deferred action status can't be applied to Figueroa, since she is not younger than 31 years old.