United States, she found herself alone.
In 2010, she secured a visa to visit family, including some of her children, in Las Vegas. Puna also was suffering from kidney stones and received treatment at Sunrise Hospital.
Puna stayed in Las Vegas as she recovered and quickly realized she wanted to remain with her children and other family rather than return to solitude in Western Samoa.
When Puna, who does not speak English, entered the United States, she was given a form that allowed her to stay through April 2011. To extend her stay, she would have to apply before then, but she failed to do so and can no longer apply for an extension.
Now, like millions of other immigrants, she is stuck. She has no legal status. Because she has no valid identification, she cannot fly to see her other children in Virginia and Alaska. If she returns to Samoa, she could be barred for years from re-entering the United States.
"It's absolutely true all the attention is paid to immigrants from Mexico and South America and their particular issues," said Puna's sister Faletolu Spencer, who lives in Las Vegas and is helping Puna work through the immigration system. "Obviously there are more Mexicans, and there is more of a voice in that community for reform because they support each other. But it is more common than people believe for immigrants to be here without legal status from outside those countries."
Waiting for reform, becoming an advocate for change
Ledesma, 23, came legally to the United States, like Puna and the Lindmeier family.
In 1995, her dad emigrated from the Philippines on a work visa. Two years later, his wife and three children, including a 7-year-old Anna, followed on visas tied to their father's work visa.
At first, the family lived with relatives in Las Vegas. In 1998, Ledesma's mother returned to the Philippines with the two older siblings so they could attend high school and college. Ledesma moved to Connecticut, where her father worked as a construction supervisor.
Her father was having an affair, Ledesma said, and cut her off from communicating with the rest of the family. They eventually moved to Fort Lauderdale.
In 2000, Ledesma's mom returned to Las Vegas and, with her relatives, searched for Ledesma and her father. When they found them, they flew to Fort Lauderdale and persuaded her dad to let Ledesma return to Las Vegas with the rest of the family.
After that, the family lost communication with the father. Ledesma's visa expired in 2001. Without her father's information, she could not renew it.
Ledesma continued in school in Las Vegas. She loved art, but when she saw her aunt helping others as a nurse, she decided that would be her career, too.
Ledesma joined Key Club and other volunteer organizations. She went through high school sharing her secret with few people.
She received the Millennium Scholarship upon graduation from Centennial High School and started in the nursing program at College of Southern Nevada.
After she was detained in San Diego in 2011, immigration officials started removal proceedings. Her court date was set one year after her arrest. Meanwhile, President Barack Obama announced the deferred action for childhood arrivals program. Ledesma's case was administratively closed as federal authorities focused on deportation proceedings for criminals, according to her attorney. Ledesma applied for deferred action in August 2012 but has yet to receive her work permit.
Today, she waits. She spends her days studying for her nursing exams without knowing if she will ever take them.
Velasquez, Ledesma's attorney, believes Congress is closer to passing immigration reform then ever before, thanks in part to more organizations getting involved.
"That town hall at UNLV was the first time I have seen all these communities on the Asian-American and Pacific Islander side come out together and start speaking about immigration reform," he said. "In the past, my sense was they always felt this was a Latino-dominated issue. They were reluctant to speak out because they felt our issues were so different from Hispanic groups, and they didn't know how to express themselves. I think one reason for this political critical mass is because the Latino community is trying to lead by example. This is what we've done, and you need to do it, too."
Here since she was a second grader, Ledesma considers herself American and does not want to redo her schooling in another country. She would love to visit her nieces and nephews in the Philippines but risks a 10-year bar from re-entry if she leaves.
"My motivation has been my family," Ledesma said. "I wanted to work hard for them, and my thought process was just hoping for the best. I would tell myself that they're not going to deport me because I'm a nursing student and I'm working really hard and I want to make a difference in my community. I've remained optimistic and put all of my anxiety into my schoolwork. ... All the time, constantly in the back of my head, I think about being deported and having to start over. It's just that glimmer of hope of even that 1 percent chance of getting the opportunity to move on."
(c)2013 the Las Vegas Sun (Las Vegas, Nev.)
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Distributed by MCT Information Services
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