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Pastors’ adopted daughter faces threat of deportation


Pastors’ adopted daughter faces threat of deportation

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo courtesy of David Arnold.

The Arnolds are urging Congress to pass a special immigration bill that would allow people like their daughter Maggie (center) to obtain a "green card."
Nov. 3, 2004

A UMNS Feature
By Steve Smith*

Smuggled into the United States from China six years ago so she could get a good education, Maggie Arnold earned straight A’s, finished as valedictorian of her high school class, led her student government at college and amassed a résumé full of academic awards.

Her adoptive parents, the Revs. David and Candace Arnold, both United Methodist pastors in Central Pennsylvania, are as proud as a mother and father can get.

However, Maggie, 19, may get kicked out of the country or forced to return to her homeland, all because her entry into the United States six years ago was not documented.

The Arnolds, who adopted Maggie legally four years ago when she was attending high school in their town, are urging Congress to pass an immigration bill solely for her or to renew provisions that would allow people like her to obtain "green cards" allowing them to stay in the country. They also want the government to approve her amnesty petition.

"I hate to think of abandoning my dream I had since I was a little girl — that is, becoming an educated person," says Maggie.

"I am very scared because I don’t know what’s going to happen to me if I do have to go back," she says. She is concerned about her education, her safety and her ability to practice Christianity.

If Maggie, a junior math major at Messiah College in Grantham, Pa., is deported or leaves on her own, she must live in China for 10 years before applying for re-entry into the United States.

The Arnolds and their supporters are focusing on an immigration policy, which expired in early 2001, that would allow undocumented immigrants like Maggie to become legal if they have U.S. relatives, are offered jobs that U.S. residents cannot fill, or pay $1,000 fines. In 2001, Congress was debating whether to renew the policy, but the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon shoved the issue aside as lawmakers launched a war on terror.

"We’re doing everything we can to make sure she’s able to stay in the country," says David Arnold, pastor at Rockville United Methodist Church in Susquehanna Township. His wife is associate pastor at First United Methodist Church in Mechanicsburg. "If they come after (Maggie), they’re going to have to take me first.

"The immigration people are running all over the country chasing bad guys and have bigger fish to fry than a 19-year-old Chinese girl who is a straight-A student in a Christian school, a valedictorian of her senior class in high school, and a leader of her student government in college."

So far, immigration officials have not threatened to deport Maggie, but without proper documentation, she cannot work legally in the United States or gain admission to the country’s top graduate schools.

Wanting a good education

When Maggie, born Qiao Qi Jiang, was 12, her biological parents in the small coastal village of Fuzhou paid smugglers $40,000 to $50,000 to sneak her into the United States so she could get an education not afforded women in the communist country.

Clutching the arm of a woman posing as her mother, Maggie landed in New York City, only to wind up dumped in the city’s Chinatown. Concerned about being stuck in a Brooklyn school unable to speak fluent English, Maggie got her parents to reach relatives in the United States, who hooked her up with the owner of a Chinese restaurant in Perry County, Pa. The Arnolds served as pastors in the area and patronized the eatery regularly.

The clergy couple became impressed by what they called Maggie’s sweet nature and hard work. The owner told them about her plight, and soon the shy girl asked the couple to adopt her so she could remain in the United States to pursue her educational goals.

Two months and a ton of "prayerful consideration" later, the Arnolds legally adopted Maggie; her birth parents had consented to signing away their rights.

Now, Arnold says, he, as a father, is deeply concerned about his daughter’s future. "To even think of all that she has gone through and to finally find a family who adopted her, loved her and to face having to give all of that up is truly depressing," he says. "Maggie needed a family, needed somebody to look after her. This is the hardest working, most driven person I’ve ever met."

Maggie, meanwhile, says her meager upbringing and limited opportunities in China have made her grateful for the outpouring of support from U.S. residents.

"I am thankful to those who have tried all their ways to try to keep me here," Maggie says. "At the same time, I like to thank God the most, who has always been present with me."

‘A lot of Maggies’

Craig Trebilcock, an immigration attorney in York, Pa., has been retained by the Arnolds to push Maggie’s case through the legislative labyrinth. He warns that if immigration officials begin deportation proceedings against Maggie, she’s as good as gone.

Under immigration laws, people who enter the United States legally — such as on visas — but later become illegal when their stays expire, can become legal residents through relations to American families. Not so for Maggie because she was smuggled into the country — unless Congress takes special action, Trebilcock says.

"There are a lot of Maggies out there who are excellent people and being forced into the shadows," he says. "During the past two years, most congressmen and senators don’t want to touch immigration issues with a 10-foot pole. In the eyes of the American public, being soft on immigration and pro-immigrant could be construed as being soft on terrorism. I don’t see the logic in that because the country was founded by immigrants."

Trebilcock adds that he’s "cautiously optimistic" that something will happen in Maggie’s favor as the debate over immigrants cools.

"When people look at these situations, they need to look at the cost to the country by keeping somebody as talented as Maggie out of the mainstream and fearful of her future," he says. "In the United States, she can contribute amazing things to the future of this country, and we should be seizing on her talents."

*Smith is a freelance writer residing in Dallas.

News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or

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