Shooting victims were nearing dream of U.S. citizenship

She only had to wait one more month.

After nearly two decades battling to become a U.S. citizen and keep her family together, Anoush Sarkisian — living illegally in the country — finally had a hearing scheduled for February.

Her case in immigration court had been re-opened, and it was the biggest hearing of her life, said Arsen Baziyants.

“Once (a case) is re-opened, that’s 99 percent of your problems solved right there,” said Baziyants, Sarkisian’s Las Vegas lawyer and longtime family friend. “It’s about the best news you can hear.”

Sarkisian, 50, and her daughter, Mariam, in her early 20s, were shot and killed in their home Sunday when Gregg Thomas, Mariam’s 23-year-old boyfriend, entered their residence at 1809 Warrenville St., near Charleston Boulevard and Hualapai Way.

Mariam was the mother of Thomas’ 1-year-old daughter, police said. He was upset at the lack of time he was being given with his child, police said.

In what police are calling an apparent murder-suicide, Thomas shot Mariam, shot Anoush, and then went outside and turned the gun on himself.

“He (Thomas) was all about that baby, he was insane about it,” said Mariam’s friend Ashley, who asked that her last name be withheld. “I never thought he’d do what he did, though.”

Court records show Thomas had no local criminal convictions, and Las Vegas police said he had only traffic citations. There are no Family Court records involving Thomas or the girl’s mother.

The child is being cared for by Emma Sarkisian, Mariam’s older sister, according to a family member.

Gonya Sarkisian, the sisters’ aunt, said Anoush’s four other daughters are staying with relatives in Las Vegas. Three of the girls are teens, and all are “quite fragile,” she said.

“They’re all very fragile,” she said. “This is very shocking.”

The girls’ father, who was out of town, is returning to Las Vegas on Wednesday, she said.

The Sarkisian family has been in the news before, with their journey toward U.S. citizenship well documented by Las Vegas media.

Anoush Sarkisian emigrated to the U.S. from Soviet Armenia in the early 1990s with her husband, Rouben, and their two young daughters, Mariam and Emma. They arrived separately.

Rouben and Anoush divorced in 1999. Rouben married an American women and obtained U.S. citizenship.

That same year, Anoush was ordered to be deported after losing an appeal to receive political asylum from the government.

But Anoush would not voluntarily leave her five daughters, three of whom were born after she and Rouben emigrated and received automatic U.S. citizenship.

Anoush may have expected the government to come for her, but instead, they first came for her two eldest daughters. In 2005, Mariam and Emma — then ages 17 and 18, respectively — were rescued from the brink of deportation to the Republic of Armenia after Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev, petitioned then-U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge to release the girls and delay their deportation.

The girls would have been sent back to the land of their birth, despite not speaking the language or having the resources to survive in the struggling nation that once was part of the Soviet Union.

“They went through hell. Can you imagine?” said Baziyants.

The Sarkisian sisters would remain in the U.S., but their future was uncertain, as was their mother’s.

In early 2009, Anoush was arrested and jailed for two months at the North Las Vegas Detention Center.

Baziyants said Anoush could have been deported, but because of a technicality, her case was deferred.

Neither the Republic of Armenia, nor the Ukraine, the U.S. government’s alternative destination, would recognize her as a citizen, the lawyer said.

“Our argument was that she was stateless, the whole family was stateless,” Baziyants said. “All she had was an expired Soviet passport.”

The mother would rejoin her family, but again, uncertainty swirled.

The family’s success in the court system, Baziyants said, was a result of a complicated loophole he recently discovered.

There is an immigration provision for citizens of former Soviet republics who emigrated to the U.S. before October 1990, he said, and Anoush and the eldest daughter, Emma, fit the requirements.

Mariam, however, who emigrated a few months after the deadline with her father, did not meet them.

“I remember telling Anoush about the good news,” Baziyants said.

But it was unlikely that that Mariam would have been able to receive citizenship, he said.

Because Emma and Anoush were possible candidates for citizenship, Baziyants said, there was a slim chance for Mariam, who had a child who was a U.S. citizen and would have been the only member of her family without it.

“We still probably wouldn’t have been successful,” the lawyer acknowledged.

Emma will be present for next month’s court hearing, he said.

Baziyants said he felt he “owed” Anoush, whom he’s known since he was a child, and would continue to fight for her family.

Anoush had been craving U.S. citizenship, in large part because she hadn’t been to Armenia to see her mother for 19 years.

“I hope Emma gets her papers,” Baziyants said. “That’s the least I can do for Anoush.”


Review-Journal writers Antonio Planas and Francis McCabe contributed to this report.

Contact reporter Mike Blasky at or 702-383-0283.


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