A Mexico-born Indiana student athlete scheduled to graduate as her class' salutatorian won't be able to attend the event because her attempt to retrieve her visa from Mexico came exactly one day too late.
As reported extensively by ABC News and the Indianapolis Star, among other sources, 18-year-old Elizabeth Olivas of Frankfort (Ind.) High has lived in the U.S. since she was 4 years old. She certainly considers herself an American, and played soccer, rank track and was a member of the the Frankfort Hot Dogs' basketball program (yes, that really is the school's mascot). Yet Olivas missed her permanent visa deadline by a single day — she and her father were attempting to help her miss as little school as possible in delaying the visa trip until the last minute — because 2012 is a leap year.
The lawyer that the Olivas family used to try and ensure Elizabeth would be granted a visa in time admitted to the Indianapolis Star that her firm failed to take the 2012 Leap Day into account, a costly logistical error that has landed Elizabeth in Chihuahua for six weeks and forced her to miss an academic award banquet and her senior prom. Now, unless something drastic changes at the last possible moment, Olivas will miss the chance to deliver the 2012 Frankfort High salutatory address.
While everyone in Frankfort feels that is unfair — Frankfort principal Steve Edwards called the incident "one of the hardest things I've ever dealt with in my life" — there appears to be little recourse to try and push Olivas up in the order in which applicants are given visa waivers. The only loophole which could be used to get the teenager back to Frankfort in time for her graduation is a "humanitarian parole," with which she could prove "extreme hardship to her or her family" as a means to allow her to temporarily return to the U.S.
Such an arrangement would solve Olivas' immediate problem and might buy her more time to get pushed forward in the line to receive the permanent residency visa she missed by a day. The Star reported that the U.S. State Department and Mexican consulate had both expressed a willingness to work toward getting Olivas an expedited waiver as well.
Yet even a push from both those diplomatic bodies may not be enough to ensure Olivas returns to Indiana in time for graduation. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services office said that it doesn't like to take people's requests for waivers out of turn, and noted that such hardship waivers are usually processed after a two-three month wait, with some not approved for as many as eight months.
Such a wait would keep Olivas from her family and friends for months, while the seemingly unlikely outcome of failing to get a visa altogether forcing her to remain in Mexico for three years before she could return to the U.S. Both of those scenarios have those who remain in Frankfort concerned about Olivas' well being and openly campaigning to get her back as soon as possible.
"She's done everything the right way," Frankfort athletic director Ed Niehaus, who noted that Olivas was selected for two of the school's scholar-athlete awards, told USA Today. "It just doesn't seem fair."
Added Franfort science teacher Shelbi Fortner: "She feels like she did the right thing, exceeded expectations, and everything she worked for is being ripped right away from her. Everything she knows and loves."