Giraffe Heroes Database

Leicester Vermont, The People of

They were in the United States illegally; that's not a question. In 1984, Mario and Maria Marquez, along with their four boys, crossed the Mexico-U.S. border at Nogalez, Arizona, to attend a Mormon conference in Salt Lake City. They then drove to Vermont to visit a friend. They had visas, but the visas soon expired.
They liked it in Vermont and moved into a home in the small town of Leicester, population well under a thousand. Mario got a job at a dairy farm and–since he had experience as a mechanic–worked on the farm machinery and volunteered his services around town. Maria made piñatas for the school Christmas play and got involved in community activities. They joined the nearest Mormon church. Their oldest boy became a Little Leaguer.
The Marquez family was known and valued in the community.
But in due time, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) caught up with them. The Border Patrol came to the farm, citing the family for violating immigration laws, and took them all to a local police station. They were granted a hearing, and in April 1986 were ordered to leave by August or else be deported.
But the people of Leicester came to their aid. They gathered hundreds of signatures on petitions. They lobbied their state representatives, their U.S. Senators, and their U.S. Congressman. They garnered testimonials like this one, from the boys’ school Principal:
"I can only say that the entire Leicester community enjoys and, yes, loves the Marquez family . . .."
When the Border Patrol came to the school to pick up the Marquez boys, the principal refused to let them take the boys; she drove them home herself that day.
Evidently, the INS was listening to the people of Leicester. They extended the deadline several times, and then Mario won a reprieve into the following year. A Vermont State Representative said, "I think the public and political pressure had a bearing on this case. It definitely helped slow it down."
The town’s strategy then became an effort to qualify Mario as a special agricultural worker. This should not have been  difficult to do: Both his current and past employers submitted affidavits attesting to his meeting the conditions for that classification.
Mario and Maria want to stay in Leicester, that's clear, but it's not because they dread returning to Mexico: They own a home and a business there. Rather, it's because they want their boys to have an American education. The waiting is tough: Even if Mario gets qualified as a special agricultural worker, he'll have only a temporary residence permit, good for two years, and the permit doesn't include the rest of the family. He has to figure out how the entire Marquez family can become eligible to apply for permanent residence.
"It's hard again to wait and wait," he said. "The boys sometimes ask what's going to happen. I don't know what to tell them."
If the people of Leicester, Vermont, have any say in it, the Marquez family will be there for a long time. They've put so much into it already. The town agent who was one of the organizers of a petition and letter-writing campaign for the family said: "They were always doing things for the community. They were good neighbors. We want people like that in Leicester."
As for Mario: "Before I came here, someone told me Vermonters aren't friendly. But I don't believe that. Not here in Leicester.”


UPDATE: There was a long and somewhat absurd process, during which some immigration officials decided that corn didn’t qualify as a vegetable because the corn Marquez worked on was for animal feed, so he was not doing valuable work. Seriously. Wiser heads at Immigration prevailed when the town pushed harder; Mario won status as an agricultural worker and the entire Marquez family was granted permanent US residence.

Age when commended: adult (20-64)
Year commended: 1987
Occupation: Other
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