Man moves closer to becoming citizen

by: Rachel Stockman Updated:

Jose Rios, 21, was approved for U.S. residency and can now legally work in Georgia.

FLOYD COUNTY, Ga. - A Floyd County man's dream of becoming a U.S. citizen is finally closer to becoming a reality.

When he was a child, Jose Rios was abandoned on the violent streets of Mexico by his parents. Seeking a better life, Rios crossed the border illegally when he was 11.

After bouncing around to different homes, Rios ended up in foster care in Georgia.

"He is the very best, of all kids that I've met at the Open Doors Home in Rome, he is absolutely the very best," said Wayne Evans, who consider Rios part of his family.

Rios was in legal limbo for years. Under immigration law, Rios qualifies as an abandoned neglected and abused child, and was supposed to get his application for residency processed by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services within 180 days. However, the months stretched into years, according to his immigration attorney.

"We lived in constant fear, thinking something could happen to him, he would get deported back," said Evans.

Rebeca Salmon, who runs the nonprofit Access to Law Foundation, deals almost exclusively in these applications, and says children in similar circumstances often do not get their applications processed in a timely manner.

"The bottom line is that I've been asking everyone, from the field office director down, to do their job," said Salmon.

After Channel 2 Action News aired a story last month, Rios' applicaton was quickly approved.

"I don't know how to explain it to you,ma'am... I mean, it just changed my whole life," Rios told Channel 2's Rachel Stockman.

Immediately after being approved for U.S. residency, Rios, now 21, applied for a job.

"I couldn't wait to work," he said. "I love working, I don't like sitting at home."

Rios said he wants to help other children in similar circumstances and know whether they can create a life in the United States or if they will face deportation.

"It's a systematic problem, it's not a Jose problem," said Salmon. "I just have been saying, 'Do your job.' I'm not saying you have to approve them."

A Department of Homeland Security official would not comment on Rios' case specifically.

Instead, the agency issued a statement, which read: "The Privacy Act precludes us from discussing specific cases. We process all petitions and applications as expeditiously as possible based on the evidence provided and immigration law."