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Valedictorian's academic plans threatened by deportation

  • Story Highlights
  • Arthur Mkoyan, 17, and his family are set for deportation 10 days after graduation
  • The family says they left Armenia in 1992 fearing for their lives
  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement says the family has no legal basis to stay
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(CNN) -- A high school valedictorian's plans to study medicine at a California state university have run headlong into the federal government's attempts to return him and his family to Armenia.

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Arthur Mkoyan, 17, was 2 years old when his family came to the United States.

"I haven't been in Armenia since I was 2, so I don't really know anything about the place," said Arthur Mkoyan, 17. "All I've seen is just videos my mom has watched on the Internet."

Mkoyan's long-term plans were turned upside down one morning in April when two immigration officers arrived at the door of his family's house.

"They took both of my parents, and they released my mom because she had to take care of us, since me and my brother are minors," he recalled. "But instead they took my dad away to a detention center in Arizona."

Mkoyan, who has a grade-point average above 4.0 -- extra credit for Advanced Placement classes makes that possible -- is set to graduate next week from Bullard High School in Fresno, California. Video Watch students from Arthur's school talk about his case »

Ten days later, Immigration and Customs Enforcement plans to deport him and his family to the Armenian capital city of Yerevan, the same city his family fled in fear 16 years ago.

Back then, Mkoyan's father, Ruben Mkoian (he and his son spell their last names differently), was a sergeant in an Armenian equivalent of a department of motor vehicles, according to a court document.

"He was approached with a bribe to register stolen vehicles. He refused. A co-worker took the bribe. Mkoian reported the incident to the chief of the DMV, who told him to mind his own business," the document states.

"Subsequently, he and his family were subjected to attacks he believed were attempts to silence him about corruption at the DMV."

In what the family considers one such attempt, their house was set on fire in 1992. That led the father to send his family to Russia and then to the United States, Arthur Mkoyan said.

They arrived in the United States in 1995 on six-month tourist visas, according to Virginia Kice, a public information officer with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The family settled in Fresno, where Mkoian worked as a truck driver and his wife worked in a jewelry store. They set about living their lives, which soon included a younger brother for Arthur.

But after the visas expired, the family's application to remain in the United States was denied. In 2002, an immigration judge ruled that they had no legal basis to remain in the country, Kice said.

After their application to the Board of Immigration Appeals was rejected, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year denied their petition for a hearing.

The court was unpersuaded by the father's assertion that he might still be subject to reprisal if he were to return.

"Mkoian's fear that Armenian officials would be unable or unwilling to protect him seems unfounded because he provided little evidence that they were unable or unwilling to protect him in the past," the appeals court said.

To Kice, it's a simple matter of enforcing the law.

"I would remind people that this family had ample access to due process," she said. "The case has been in litigation for more than 10 years. Immigration experts on every level determined that they had no legal basis to be in the United States."

She noted that the government agreed to delay their deportation so Arthur can graduate with his class.

Arthur's schoolmates at Bullard are shocked that his academic achievements haven't helped his case.

"It's really hard to get good grades in this school," freshman Alex Stewart told affiliate KGPE. "It's a challenging school, so to get a 4.0, you really gotta try."

Still, a longer-term reprieve remains possible, if unlikely. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, may attempt to pass a "private bill" that would allow the family to remain in the United States.

"Our office is looking into the case," said Scott Gerber, a spokesman for the senator.

But the odds against it are long. There is "almost no chance" that the family's quest for a private bill will succeed, said Daniel Kowalski, editor-in-chief of Bender's Immigration Bulletin.

"Very few are being passed," he said.

In fact, of the 21 private immigration bills introduced last year, none was enacted. In 2006, 117 were introduced, and none was enacted; in 2005, 98 were introduced, and four were enacted.

But the filing itself would buy the family time, since it suspends any efforts to deport the family until the bill's fate is determined.

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Arthur appeared undaunted. He appealed to a reporter to publicize his e-mail address (artmkoyan@gmail.com) so he can forward any letters of support to Feinstein.

Meanwhile, the academic skills he has displayed in Fresno may not easily translate to college in Armenia. Arthur said he understands only a few words of Armenian.

All About U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs EnforcementArmeniaDianne Feinstein

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