Alison and Martin Dennis look through paperwork they’ve collected throughout the years while living in the United States on E2 visas. Their son Mark, 19, will have to return to England, where he lived until he was 4 months old, at age 21 to establish ties there before returning to America on another visa if current rules are not changed.

Photo by John F. Russell

Alison and Martin Dennis look through paperwork they’ve collected throughout the years while living in the United States on E2 visas. Their son Mark, 19, will have to return to England, where he lived until he was 4 months old, at age 21 to establish ties there before returning to America on another visa if current rules are not changed.

Steamboat family hoping for changes to citizenship regulations

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Alison, left, Martin, right, and Matthew Dennis have collected paperwork while living in the United States on E2 visas.

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Alison, left, Martin, right, and Matthew Dennis have collected a mountain of paperwork while living in the United States on E2 visas. The family's 19-year-old son Mark, who is currently at the University of Colorado, may have to return to England — where he lived until he was 4 months old — at age 21 to establish ties there before returning to America on another visa if current rules are not changed.

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Courtesy photo

Mark Dennis, right, stands with his younger brother, Matthew, at his Steamboat Springs High School graduation in 2009. Because Mark was born in England, laws will force him to return to England at age 21, just before his senior year at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

— A Congressional battle bre­­wing in Washington, D.C., this week is raising the hopes of a Steamboat Springs family seeking a change to the nation’s immigration policies.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., announced last week his intentions for Senate debate, potentially Tuesday, on the fiscal year 2011 national defense authorization bill. Along with hundreds of billions of dollars in national security and defense spending, the bill includes two controversial provisions: a repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” policies that prohibit openly gay people from serving in the military, and the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, which would provide a path to legal residency for children who were brought to the country illegally but graduate high school and either attend college or serve in the military.

Alison and Martin Dennis are hoping passage of the DREAM Act will provide a step toward continued legal residency for their son Mark Dennis, 19. He’s a 2009 Steamboat Springs High School graduate who’s lived in Steamboat nearly his entire life but under current law would have to return to England — where he lived his first four months — at the age of 21.

That would be just before Mark’s senior year at the University of Colorado in Boul­­der. He’s currently a sophomore there, studying geology.

If Mark were to return to England, current law states he would have to develop strong ties there — through property ownership or employment, for example — before a potential return to CU on an international student visa, with tuition that’s vastly more expensive than in-state rates. Alison and Martin Dennis said that while the family occasionally visits England, Mark is unfamiliar with the country. To him, Alison Dennis said, home always has been Steamboat.

She knows legislative help for Mark is a long shot.

Not only is the DREAM Act a political fire-starter that’s been unsuccessfully floated in Congress numerous times since 2001, but it’s also now tied to “don’t ask, don’t tell” policies in a midterm election year in which Democrats and Republicans are struggling for control of the House and Senate in November, meaning every vote and bill is viewed under a high-intensity microscope.

Reid’s inclusion of the DREAM Act in the defense authorization bill itself has spurred heated debate about political motivations.

But perhaps most importantly for the Dennis family, DREAM Act language applies only to undocumented young people. Mark Dennis is documented and here legally, under his parents’ E2 treaty investor visa — until he turns 21.

Alison Dennis said Sunday that despite conversations with lawyers, she doesn’t have a definite answer as to whether passage of the DREAM Act would help Mark’s cause.

“Until the bill comes out, no one can actually give me an answer,” she said. “It just says ‘undocumented,’ and Mark is documented.”

She joked that one solution could be letting Mark’s documents “go out of date” — but she quickly retracted that statement.

“We would never put Mark on the wrong side of the law by letting him go out of status,” she said. “We would have to fight through our lawyer to have him accepted.”

Costs to stay home

That’s a fight the Dennis family has been waging in various forms for the past 19 years.

Alison and Martin Dennis moved to Steamboat Springs in October 1991, just a few months after Mark was born in their native England. They’ve owned the Carpets Plus store on Pine Grove Road since 1997 and also own the Sleepy Bear mobile home park on the city’s west side. Their younger son, Matthew Dennis, 17, was born in the U.S. and is a legal resident.

Last week at their home on Sky Valley Drive, off U.S. Highway 40 on Rabbit Ears Pass, Alison Dennis flipped through a thick binder of documents related to their visa renewals and their work seeking a change in policy for Mark.

“We’ve spent a minimum of $60,000 over the past 20 years to keep us legal here,” she said, referring to expenses including visa renewals every five years.

Martin Dennis said their last renewal cost about $10,000.

The DREAM Act debate is fueling rallies, support and opposition across Colorado and the nation. Alison Dennis is traveling to Denver today to attend a rally in support of the legislation. The event at North High School is organized by groups including the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition.

She and Martin Dennis acknowledged that their family’s situation is relatively fortunate when compared to the struggles of many families supporting the DREAM Act — current law requires the country’s estimated 2 million undocumented young people to leave the country at age 18. And Mark, unlike many, would be returning to a country where he speaks the primary language.

But the situation, nonetheless, has the family in a bind.

“He’s a kid without a country,” Martin Dennis said about his eldest son. “He can’t go home, and he can’t stay here.”

Comments

addlip2U 3 years, 7 months ago

As stated in the article: " DREAM Act language applies only to UNDOCUMENTED young people. Mark Dennis is documented and here legally, under his parents’ E2 treaty investor visa — until he turns 21."

If I read that correctly, the concern of this family for the Dream Act is unfounded.

So what is the point of this article?

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bandmama 3 years, 7 months ago

Dont know a lot about it, but why not duel citizenship? After so many years, why not? And agree with addlip, he isn't undocumented. ?????

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Scott Wedel 3 years, 7 months ago

Looks like current immigration law does not have provisions for an E-2 dependent to stay as a student after reaching 21.

Maybe they are hoping that the proposed law includes provisions for fixing issues like this.

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Nina Mold 3 years, 7 months ago

It makes me so mad when people make stupid remarks about something they do not understand!

addlip2U - the point of this article is to highlight how your government is considering offering a path to citizenship the the children of illegal aliens, but NOT to young people brought here LEGALLY. You allow the offspring of illegal immigrants to join the military, but NOT people like my daughter or Mark Dennis - both here legally. The DREAM Act will help only ILLEGAL young people, but do nothing for families like ours who bought businesses in order to come here, who create jobs for Americans and contribute to the economy.

bandmama - you're right, you don't know a lot about it. In fact, you don't know anything about it. E2 investors CANNOT apply for citizenship. If we could, we wouldn't be suffering by having our families decimated.

In order to apply for citizenship, you have to be sponsored by a close relative or employer. If you have neither, the only way to live and work here is through investment. People don't just get ctizenship by being here for years.

Please people, understand YOUR laws before commenting.

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seeuski 3 years, 7 months ago

Pretty forceful and somewhat rude comments from a guest.

pinkcat, What are the immigration laws of your Country of origin? Should we follow those guidelines here? Did you understand the immigration laws as they stood when you chose to invest your money in this foreign Country?

You are right, most of us don't have a detailed understanding of our immigration laws because we are not forced to intimately learn them as you would be during your efforts to gain permanent legal status.

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seeuski 3 years, 7 months ago

pinkcat, I will add that I can understand your frustration with the unfairness of your situation in comparison with how illegals are seemingly getting preferential treatment and not having to face the same legal scrutiny as you. I would change the laws in favor of rectifying your situation well before those that crossed the border with total abandonment of the immigration laws of the USA. Good luck.

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mtntrekker 3 years, 7 months ago

Pinkcat, not all of us study immigration/citizenship laws like you do. Relax. Since I do not have hours to research immigration laws, here is what I THINK. Unfortunately, the parents are here on visas and they are not U.S. citizens. Their son is documented as entering the country on his parent's visa. So it seems the visa rules would apply regardless. I'm sure the family knows someone here who might be glad to sponsor their son for citizenship. Seems a better alternative than shipping him off to England. How long would he have to stay in England before he could return? Hopefully over the next two years they can find a solution. Good luck to them.

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Scott Wedel 3 years, 7 months ago

Well, in all too common SB Today fashion, the article describes people in a situation and then some information about the larger situation and the two do not overlap.

It is not at all clear how this proposed legislation will affect this family. If there is a provisions for E-2 dependents in college then it does not appear to have been part of the public discussion.

The E-2 program is basically a way for people get into the US by spending at least $100K to start a business. The E-1 program is basically the program for international companies to be able to have skilled employees work where the company thinks they are needed. Thus, E-1 employees are not at all expected to become US residents, but to return home in a few years. And so when they created the E-2 program it appears that it was not well thought out that people coming here to start a business are not as likely to return home. Thus, what to do with their adult children was not addressed in the law other than they no longer qualify for legal residency under their parent's E-2 visa.

It would seem that some very wealthy E-2 people simply give their kids at least $100K to be part of an expansion of the family business or start a new business in order to qualify for an E-2 of their own. And then presumably they marry a US citizen and gain citizenship.

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mmjPatient22 3 years, 7 months ago

Is it just me, or does Mr. Dennis look an awful lot like celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay from "Hell's Kitchen?"

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bandmama 3 years, 7 months ago

scott-thanks for the POLITE answer, as stated, I didn't know. Appreciate the info. pinkcat- thanks for the info. You see being a natural born citizen and having a child who is as well, I really haven't had to do a lot of research in that field. Thanks so much for your civilized, and educated answer. mmj- HA! Yes, he does but Martin is alot nicer and I have never known him to be as scary.....LOL!

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mmjPatient22 3 years, 7 months ago

But they sure as $#!+ could be brothers though.

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Nina Mold 3 years, 7 months ago

mtntrekker,

It's not possible to just find 'someone' to sponsor your child for citizenship. It has to be a close relative or employer. Since E2 dependent children can't work, it won't be an employer, and the only relative he has is his brother, who can't sponser Mark until he's 21.. The wait time for sibling sponsorship is 12 years.

Scott,

If there's such a thing as wealthy E2 investors, I don't know of any. And I'm a co-founder of E2Reform.org, so I know a lot of families. We have all sold everything we had to buy a business in order to live and work here. Those who do make a lot of money and want to stay permanently can change to an EB-5 visa (investment of $500,000 in an underdeveloped area) and get green cards. For us mere mortals, the fight goes on.

Since E2 dependents can't work, they would not be granted an E2 visa even if they could afford to buy a business. How can you run a business if you have no work experience?

When my daughter turned 21, I put her on an F-1 visa (foreign student) so she can get her degree next year. After that, she'll have one year to find an employer to sponsor her. Fortunately, she's extremely smart, so we're hopeful. If not, back she goes to England to benefit their economy. America needs bright young minds, but just keeps throwing them out. America also need foreign nationals with money to invest to come here and create jobs, but you wont let us stay. Go figure.

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dave reynolds 3 years, 7 months ago

I 've know Martin and Allison for a long time..I remember Mark was born about the same time my daughter was...this is crap..we have illegals giving birth and get automatic citizenship and a good upstanding family has to jump though these hoops..please my prayers are with you Allison and Martin..good things happen to good people

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bandmama 3 years, 7 months ago

mmj-cant wait till the next time I see him!!! paddle-ditto!!!

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Nina Mold 3 years, 7 months ago

seeuski,

In answer to your question -

In every developed country in the world, including Britain, five years of success in business leads to citizenship.

In fact, they roll out the red carpet. "Come here" they say "bring money that you are willing to risk and create jobs for our citizens, and we will reward you for your contribution to our economy"

In America, we are treated like lepars.

E2 visa holders here collectively employ over 1 million Americans. If you let us stay, we would employ more. We love America, and we want to stay. Unfortuantely, we'd have a better chance if we were illegal.

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Scott Wedel 3 years, 7 months ago

Nina, My limited experience on E-2 visas is from Silicon Valley where wealthy Chinese (mainland and Taiwan) have been known to buy houses with cash and start a business in order to have legal residency. It was just an observation that it has been observed that their children upon reaching 21 now also own a business and are under great family pressure to marry an US citizen.

"How can you run a business if you have no work experience?" - happens all the time locally with trust funders and such. When the point of the business is not to lose too much money, but to teach jr responsibility or to keep jr in the USA with an E-2 visa then it does not matter if jr has work experience.

As I said earlier, I don't think the current situation is intentional gov't policy. They created E-1 for international corporations. Wealthy international people wanted easier provisions to live in the US without having to set up a corporation to say they were needed here so they created E-2 for investors, but didn't think ahead regarding children of E-2 visa holders. Current law makes sense for kids of E-1 because E-1 is presumably here for only a few years. But it makes little sense for kids of E-2.

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Nina Mold 3 years, 7 months ago

Scott,

Thanks for your response. The fact that no one seems to have considered what will happen to the children of E2 visa holders is what motivates us to raise awareness, hence articles such as this one.

It actually matters very much whether or not an E2 visa applicant has work experience. One has to produce a workable business plan and prove the ability to carry it out. Youth and inexperience would definitely not cut it with the embassy processing the application.

You mention wealthy Chinese E2 visa holders who buy houses with cash and start businesses. I'm curious as to why they would not just use the EB-5 and get their green cards so they don't have to jump through all the hoops and constantly renew their visas.

You're right, the law makes little sense for kids of E2 visa holders. That's why we are fighting for change. Why would anyone move their family to another country, invest their own money in a business, make a success of it, and then leave?

Anyone can sign the online petition at E2Reform.org Read the comments left by others who have signed it and learn about the misery caused to those who abided by the law and actually contribute to the economy.

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bandmama 3 years, 7 months ago

Well, again I will ask..seriously, why cant one have duel citizenship? I really dont know and would like to. What are the remifications of having that status? How does that work and why wouldn't one want that? No, I dont want to be called names for asking. Educate me. If one wants to stay in the good old US of A, and live here long term (or for life) why keep the connection with the country of birth? If one moves the family here and wants to invest money and all for thier life, why not become a citizen of this country? What are the benfits of keeping citizenship of that birth country? If you are not planning on leaving, why are you staying here? I have NO problem with someone making a success here, this country is founded by MANY who have done so. But I really dont understand the concept of keeping visas for years, then wanting all rights of being a citizen of the country of your choice. America. In this situation, the kid has been here all his life, this is his country. As far as I am concerned, visa or not he is a citizen. His family is. But I still have to ask why keep the long term visas. Written abuse may start....NOW.

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Nina Mold 3 years, 6 months ago

bandmama,

The E2 visa holders who have invested in businesses want nothing more than to become citizens and have some security. The problem is, WE ARE NOT ALLOWED TO. You don't get citizenship based on how long you have lived here. You have to have an employer or close relative to sponsor you.

We do not want to keep renewing our visa at a cost of $10,000 each time, but we have no choice. Your government will not let us apply to becom citizens We are more than willing to sever all ties with our home countries and become Americans, if only it were that simple.

You seem to think that we actually choose to live this way, with expensive renewals, no security and having our families decimated.

WE WANT TO BE CITIZENS, but your government would rather give that privilege to illegal immigrants than to people who actually contribute to the economy.

I hope you now understand what an unfair situation this is.

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bandmama 3 years, 6 months ago

pink- thank you for your ahhh...angry response. Thank you for explaining that there is absolutely no possibility of one becoming a citizen when here on an E2 visa. If you are paying money to be here and no one is holding a gun to your head for that money, then yes I do think that you CHOOSE to be here. I am not saying sorry for the choice you made to live here. Why not go home and come back illegally, you seem to think that that is the what the general public would prefer. And judging from your angry hostile replies, no I really dont want someone of your caliber here. The Dennis's on the other hand, I would love to be able to help them, wonderful family and we welcome them in this community. Thank you also for speaking for everyone of you who are in this circumstance, by stating that you would love to severe all ties with your country of birth. I didn't realize that so many wanted to escape England. I asked an honest question. I will search elsewhere for a legitimate not so hostile response to the duel citizenship and regulattions of E2's. Thank you for your time.

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bandmama 3 years, 6 months ago

Question to anyone but pink. When one is here on an E2, can that status be changed to an F1 or other foreign student visa, so that one in young Mr Dennis's position would be allowed to stay? What about citizenship through joining the military? I cant really find anything diffinitive to answer those questions. Thanks.

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flotilla 3 years, 6 months ago

Nina, instead of using your passion to be rude, why don't you use it to respectfully make your point. Most people in this town know folks that have had to go back to their home country because our government has turned down their requests to stay. Yes, people who work hard and want to pay taxes (well...). It is unfair, but you are a poor advocate for this cause, please calm down and educate people politely. I suppose your country has never made mistakes? Do you think it fair to blame all Americans for the legislation created here? I hope not.

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JusWondering 3 years, 6 months ago

Nina, I understand your frustration. As one that was born here I have a difficulty relating to your conundrum. As one that has made a conscious decision to leave everything they have in the country of their birth, invest in our nation and (hopefully) create jobs for citizens I would hope that our process would find a way to thank you and benefit your children through sponsorship (assuming your business has paid taxes over the years and you are not just sucking more of our resources without giving in return). Unfortunately this is a touchy issue with so many of us because of the abuses others have made on our system.... if only you had the foresight to get pregnant four months later you would not have this problem (stupid in and of itself). Clearly reform needs to happen and clearly loopholes need to be closed!

For those of you berating the situation. For all practical purposes Mark is a citizen of this country under our current rules!

Nina, if you can relay tone in text I would suggest a softer tone (though it must be difficult to relay after dealing with it for 19 years) to get legal voting citizens to see your situation as it is... a stupid loophole in our already broken immigration laws.

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Steve Adams 3 years, 6 months ago

OK... Deep Breath... Calm

The E2 Treaty Investor Visa is a visa which allows nationals of countries which have a treaty with the US to come here, invest, employ US citizens, pay taxes including Social Security and Medicare, but it does not currently allow those Visa holders to become permanent residents ( Green Card Holders ) and therefore are never eligible to become citizens. The children of these Visa holders are not eligible to receive Social Security Numbers and are therefore unable to work legally. As with the Dennis's, these children have been educated at the US taxpayers expense but the US is prepared to let this education benefit other parts of the world as they are unable to stay in the US after the age of 21. This is unless they change to an F1 International Student Visa ( very expensive ) and then find an employer to sponsor them for a Green Card. This is all very well if the kids are of college caliber, but what many do not realize is that the E2 dependency cuts out at 18 if the child is no longer in full time education. This has meant in many cases that the business is closed with jobs lost as the family must return back to their homeland.

The Dream Act would not have helped these kids as it applies to " Undocumented " children, however, the Bill was unlikely to pass a Democrat Majority House anyway.

As the parent to a 19 year old sophomore Math major and a 17 year old freshman at the University of Florida, I am concerned and we have had to steer our children towards career paths that will encourage prospective employers to sponsor them for Legal Permanent Residency.

Unfortunately, the E2 Visa seems to be largely overlooked and pretty much unknown by most on Capitol Hill. Only those on the right committees have any clue what it is.

It is unfortunate that in these times of global hardship, the US doesn't recognize the importance of the small business investor and do more to encourage them to come here. Instead, many are heading for Canada, Australia and New Zealand which have a much more welcoming policy as far as small business investors go.

Finally, a few figures which usually open some eyes wide. Approximately 100,000 E2 businesses in the USA. Over $40 Billion of Investment Over $50 Billion of annual Taxable turnover and most telling of all ..... around 750,000 US Citizen Employees

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Nina Mold 3 years, 6 months ago

Can someone please tell me EXACTLY where I'm being rude and hostile?

I had already explained that E2 investors could not get citizenship. bandmama did not understand and asked me to explain again, so I did. What is the problem?

She doesn't want 'people like me' here because I used a few captals to make the point clear? How shallow. Well, if she knows of a way to sell my business and my home in the middle of a recession, maybe I will throw in the towel. God knows, it's been a really hard journey.

I'd like bandmama to know that I employ 7 US citizens. I have a business to run, a home to run, two kids still at home, and I spend most of my spare time helping and advising other E2 visa holders. I write extensively on immigration for newspapers in the hope of raising awareness about our plight. I have been to Washington DC (at my own expense) in an effort to get politicains to help us and I've been interviewed on the radio several times. How does that make me a poor advocate, flotilla? What else do you suggest I do?

I am doing all I can to help myself and all other E2 investors to find a path to permanent residency, but it's an uphill struggle. The last thing we need to be told is to go home. We've broken no laws and we contribute to the economy.


JusWondering,

Thank you for your understanding reply. A couple of points, though. Mark is NOT a citizen. That's why he may have to return to England when he reaches 21. That's what much of our struggle is about. My daughter is 21 and has to go back next year.

The other point is, it's the Dennis's who've been here 19 years, not me. My family and I have been here for 7 years, although I grew up in Virginia, so America feels like home to me. My step-dad was a US Marine and he legally adopted me, yet I cannot get citizenship.

I've tried my best to explain the problems in the simplest terms, althought the situation is complicated. If others think that's being rude, well, that's their problem. They're not the ones living in limbo, scared to death that all their dreams, all their hardwork and sacrifice, will come to nought.

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bandmama 3 years, 6 months ago

charlie, thanks for your imformative answer and information. pink- I was not the only one who felt a bit of hostility from you in your answers. Look at your responses to legit questions to your plight. "poeple like you" was directed to ONLY you, because of your flippant rude comments to me, not everyone in your situation. also, being a natural born citizen of these great United States, let me point out that we are also, with the recession, living in limbo, scared to death that all our dreams, hardwork, sacrifice and everything we have worked for is going down the drain. This is not specific to E2 holders. Applies to us too.

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Nina Mold 3 years, 6 months ago

bandmama,

Please, explain where I was hostile, rude or flippant and I will apologize. Capitals are for emphaisis, not hostility. You are quite hostile yourself, actually.

I have contacted Alison to explain how I can help her son to stay in the country. I work only for the good of hard-working people who have done nothing wrong, and to change the laws that prevent honest, law-abiding people from staying in the United States to benefit the economy.

If you are directing a snide remark at me, say so, and don't say 'people like you'. Look at your comments and tell me who is rude.

.

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scott smith 3 years, 6 months ago

Hey Martin, Why dont you clean up that dump of a trailer park (sleepy bear) that has been over run by illegals. You should be ashamed of yourself...not to mention charging that much lot rent! What a joke!

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addlip2U 3 years, 6 months ago

Thank you for the many educational commentaries. The article addressed the The Dream Act.

I still believe that my initial comment: ........."the concern of this family for the Dream Act is unfounded."

Clearly the Dream Act would not have helped this family as it applies to " Undocumented " children.

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