Deportation battle

With little fanfare Friday, an immigration judge handed Mario Arseno Jr. the piece of paper he had waited 14 years to receive: an order making him a lawful permanent resident of the United States.

The brief court hearing ended a saga that reached its nadir in May 2006, when Arseno was arrested at his Las Vegas home in front of his pregnant wife and the couple's six children. He spent the next six months in jail, primarily in California, while he fought efforts to deport him.

"From now on, it's only going to be good things," a beaming Arseno said Friday.

Arseno was among 179 "immigration violators" arrested in Clark County during a six-day operation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers. At the time, a spokeswoman said he would be returned to Peru as soon as the agency received travel documents for him.

Immigration attorney Vicenta Montoya said her client believed he had no choice but to resist his deportation, even though it meant the temporary loss of his freedom in the United States.

"If he had left, he had no idea when he would see his family again, if ever," Montoya said. In addition, she said, "it's more difficult to try to fight a case outside the country than to fight it inside the country."

Montoya said the case shows that immigrants can achieve good results if they pursue legal remedies, although she regrets that Arseno's results didn't come sooner.

"If there's a remedy available to you, you shouldn't give up," she said.

Arseno had good reason to give up. Twice before, motions to reopen his immigration case had been denied.

Montoya filed a third motion in June 2006, and a judge granted it. The decision led to Arseno's release from custody in November and the end of the deportation proceedings.

On Friday, Arseno said his faith in God helped him through the ordeal.

"I always believed in him," the 32-year-old musician said. "He never let me down."

Arseno said he also owed a debt of gratitude to his wife and his lawyer, who stood by him and helped publicize his plight.

His 30-year-old wife, Nancy, went to U.S. Immigration Court on Friday with six of the couple's children, including the son born in January. The couple's 8-year-old son is visiting Arseno's mother in Peru.

Arseno said his new status as a lawful permanent resident of the United States means that he, too, can visit his mother, whom he hasn't seen in 14 years.

With his new green card, Arseno can make the trip without fear of being denied entry upon his return to the United States.

Montoya said Arseno's new status also means that in two years and nine months, he can apply for U.S. citizenship, based on his marriage to a U.S. citizen.

He plans to do so.

Arseno entered the United States legally in 1993 on a visitor's visa. While he was on a trip to Puerto Rico, authorities discovered he had overstayed his visa.

He left his address with officials and was allowed to return to the United States. In 1995, a judge in Puerto Rico ordered him deported in absentia.

Montoya contended he never received notice of the deportation hearing and did not learn about it until he applied for a change in status because of his marriage to an American citizen. The Arsenos have been married for nine years; they met while working at the Luxor.

Judge Ronald Mullins granted Arseno's status as a lawful permanent resident Friday after ensuring that the immigrant had undergone a required security clearance.

The joyous proceedings were marred only slightly when Mullins reproached Nancy Arseno with a stern "madame" in response to noise from her 6-month-old son, prompting her to leave the courtroom with her three youngest children.

At the end of the hearing, the judge congratulated Arseno and reminded him that he must behave or risk a renewed attempt to deport him.

In an interview outside the courtroom, Arseno said he just wants to make money and travel.

Before his arrest, Arseno was working as a deliveryman, but his wife was forced to seek public assistance after she lost his support.

Since his release, he has been performing with his Vega Sabor Orchestra and training for a position as a financial adviser.

Nancy Arseno, who sells Avon products, called the resolution of her husband's immigration case "a real beginning."

"Because now we can make plans without having to make sure we have money for the lawyer," she said.