Lauren Gray will probably never forget her 21st birthday present.
The Trenton, Mo., dancer gets to stay in the United States, Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill announced Wednesday, instead of having to return to England, the place of her birth.
“It’s kind of a shock and I am extremely grateful,” Gray said by phone Wednesday morning just before a telephone news conference. “I have all options in front of me. I am going to make the best of it.”
Gray has lived in Missouri since age 4 when her parents brought her to the United States. Just weeks ago, she was sadly and reluctantly ready to return to Britain.
Media attention to Gray’s plight, including a front-page story in The Kansas City Star in July, drew national attention.
Gray is the eldest daughter of Ali and Ian Gray, also British citizens. Ali Gray’s parents — Lauren’s maternal grandparents — are naturalized U.S. citizens who farm in the Trenton area.
Ali and Ian Gray came to the United States in 1995 with their two daughters, Lauren and Gemma, under what is known as an E-2 Treaty Investors visa. The Grays invested here by buying and running the Lakeview Motor Lodge and Restaurant in Trenton for 17 years. The business employs nearly 30 local residents.
Under the rules of their visas, Lauren Gray’s parents are allowed to stay in the United States indefinitely, pending review and renewal of their visas every two years.
The problem, however, is that an E-2 visa is a “non-immigrant” visa. Its rules do not allow Ali and Ian Gray’s children to remain once they reach age 21 and are no longer dependents. Lauren Gray turned 21 on Wednesday.
But Lauren Gray has known no other real home other than the U.S. She was a high school cheerleader in Trenton and graduated in May as a dance major from Stephens College in Columbia.
Moreover, the Grays applied nine years ago for the “green cards” that would make themselves and their daughters permanent legal residents. But the backlog for green cards is long and Lauren would have needed to leave before her application came up for approval.
Her problem arose at time of a time of intense debate over immigration policy. In June, President Barack Obama announced that the Department of Homeland Security would stop deportation proceedings against and begin granting temporary work permits to law-abiding immigrants who, as children, were unlawfully brought to the United States by their parents or others.
Lauren Gray wondered why it was right under what is known as a “deferred action” for the children of illegal immigrants to have the opportunity to stay and work, while she did not. McCaskill’s office, as well as that of Republican U.S. Rep. Sam Graves, took note, as did organizers from the group Change.org. At the end of July, they flew Lauren Gray, her mother and a best friend to Washington, D.C., to appeal to lawmakers.
Gray said that the meetings initially were disappointing. Then she met with McCaskill.
“I don’t remember word for word,” Gray recalled. “But she said, ‘We’re fixing this. This isn’t right. You shouldn’t have to be doing this.’ ”
At the 11 a.m. conference call, McCaskill said she spoke directly to the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security on Gray’s behalf.
“I made a personal call to Janet Napolitano, and brought Lauren’s situation to her attention and she agreed that it is young women like Lauren we want in the United States of America.”
McCaskill said Gray will be allowed to stay in the United States legally until her green card request works its way through the system. She will get a work visa that is renewable every two years.
“I am very pleased that she will remain in the only country she has ever known,” McCaskill said.
Gray said, “It is the best birthday present I could ever have gotten.”