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Family narrowly avoids deportation to Russia

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  • Family narrowly avoids deportation to Russia

    Las Vegas Sun
    March 24, 2005

    Family narrowly avoids deportation to Russia

    Porter's last-ditch efforts help professional figure skaters stay in Vegas
    By Emily Richmond
    <[email protected]>

    A Las Vegas family of figure skaters was granted a 90-day reprieve
    from their scheduled deportation to Russia this morning after Rep. Jon
    Porter, R-Nev., intervened on their behalf.

    It was an emotional scene as Anna Petrachenkova, her husband, Vladimir
    Khatin, and their 11-year-old son Timofey, had waited anxiously
    with more than a dozen friends and colleagues this morning at the
    Immigration and Customs Enforcement office on Pepper Lane to learn
    their fate.

    A spokesman for the congressman said Porter had been in contact with
    the federal immigration officials in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday
    and had secured a stay of the deportation order for the family.

    "I have hope now where I did not have hope before," the 40-year-old
    Khatin said.

    He, his wife and son must return to the office April 15 for a
    meeting to discuss the family's request to remain in the United
    States permanently.

    Khatin and Petrachenkova said they will consult with an immigration
    attorney prior to their meeting with immigration officials next month
    and will do whatever is necessary to gain legal status.

    "This is a family that has followed the rules and has tried very hard
    to become citizens. Unfortunately the avenues that they had used were
    unsuccessful," Porter said this morning. "Now we have some opportunity
    to pursue other channels. We have a lot of folks who are working very
    hard for the family."

    Porter said he has been talking about the case with a variety of
    federal officials, from those responsible for immigration and homeland
    security matters to staff at the White House.

    Petrachenkova said she applied for a stay of deportation earlier this
    month but received a form letter in the mail Wednesday stating that
    her application could not be processed. She had written a check for
    $250 when the actual cost of processing the request was $155.

    "I couldn't believe such a mistake happened," Petrachenkova said.

    As she hugged friends and wiped tears from her cheeks this morning,
    Petrachenkova said she would celebrate her family's small step toward
    victory with a trip to the flower shop.

    "I need to buy him (Porter) a bouquet," Petrachenkova, 35, said.

    Suzanne Butler, whose granddaughter is one of Petrachenkova's skating
    students, said she was stunned to learn of the family's immigration
    woes about two weeks ago.

    "No one knew and they (the family) didn't know that we would want
    to help them," Butler said. "This is a good, honorable family. They
    deserve to stay."

    The news that the family had been granted a 90-day stay came after a
    tense morning of waiting. In the small lobby of the federal office,
    Timofey sat with his head between his knees as a friend patted his
    back and spoke words of encouragement. Seated next to him was his
    mother, who trembled and sobbed, alternately clutching her son and
    pressing her hands to her face. His father sat stoically next to
    her, occasionally venturing outside to talk to the small crowd of
    supporters, take calls on his cell phone and chain-smoke cigarettes.

    The family lost its four-year legal battle to stay in the United
    States when the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied its claim for
    political asylum last year. A Feb. 16 letter instructed the family to
    be at the federal office at 8:30 this morning, ready for deportation
    with no more than 44 pounds of luggage apiece.

    Instead the family put its faith in Porter and left luggage and
    the family dog at home this morning when they got into their white
    minivan and headed to the immigration office. Petrachenkova could
    hardly speak at that time.

    Once they got to the immigration office several of Petrachenkova's
    students and their parents paced outside and peered toward the tinted
    glass of the office, hoping for some sign of activity.

    When Khatin emerged waving a letter explaining the 90-day stay, there
    were cheers and hugs. A handful of tissues was passed around as men,
    women and two little girls wiped their eyes.

    The family could also benefit from a private bill, granting them
    citizenship, that would need to be authored by a member of Nevada's
    congressional delegation. Such bills are not unusual and have been
    authored by lawmakers from various states. However the passage requires
    a floor vote and Congress is in recess until the first week of April.

    Of the 108 private bills introduced last session only three passed,
    Porter said.

    "I think they have a better chance through the legal channels,"
    Porter said this morning. "Our goal this week was to make sure we
    could get a stay and help the family find other options."

    A spokeswoman for U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., confirmed Wednesday
    that the Senate minority leader would not be intervening on the
    family's behalf.

    "We're sympathetic to their situation but we've looked at the case
    and they've exhausted all legal remedies," said Shannon Eagan,
    a spokeswoman for Reid.

    The family could reapply for visas to return to the United States
    following their deportation, Eagan said.

    "Sen. Reid would support them in that effort and he encourages them
    to consider that option," Eagan said.

    In January Reid effectively blocked the deportation of 18-year-old Emma
    Sarkisian and her 17-year-old sister, Mariam, who spent two weeks in
    federal custody awaiting deportation to Armenia. While the girls had
    been born in Armenia they had spent most of their lives in Las Vegas
    with their father, Rouben Sarkisian, who has U.S. resident status,
    one step below citizenship.

    Unlike Rouben Sarkisian, neither Petrachenkova nor Khatin are legal
    residents. And the Russian family also did not face being split up,
    as the Sarkisian family did.

    Petrachenkova and Khatin first sought political asylum in December
    2000, when their contract as performers with "Moscow Stars on Ice"
    finished and their visas expired. But the pair said they faced
    extortion threats from authorities and gangsters in their native
    village outside of Russia if they returned home.

    During a prior visit home the thugs had threatened the life of their
    son and had shown up at their apartment in Russia waving handguns
    and demanding money, Petrachenkova said.

    While their case made its way through the U.S. courts, the family
    was given permission to work and travel, arriving in Las Vegas about
    three years ago. Timofey, who finished sixth in this year's Southwest
    Pacific Regional Championships, said he wants to one day compete in
    the Olympics for the United States. He is an honor roll student at
    Odyssey Charter School, a distance education program.

    Friends, colleagues and students of Petrachenkova and Khatin, both
    of whom teach at the Las Vegas Ice Center, have spent the past few
    days feverishly collecting signatures on a petition in support of
    the family. Matt Tryba, whose daughter trains with Petrachenkova,
    said an immigration attorney advised him to gather a minimum of 2,000
    signatures if he expected to win support from an elected officials.

    "He (the attorney) told me that 2,000 signatures equals 50,000 votes,"
    Tryba said. "What we have to do is show there's real support for these
    people otherwise what makes them special? Why should a politician
    care enough to help?"

    As of Wednesday more than 2,500 signatures had been gathered,
    Tryba said.

    Jeremiah Wolf Stuchiner, the Las Vegas attorney who represented the
    family in the appeal of the deportation order, said if he had been
    advising them five years ago he would have recommended they trade on
    their skating skills.

    "Applying for residency as highly trained artists might have been a
    more successful route," Stuchiner said