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Victim had hopes for citizenship

She had to wait only 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 reopened, and it was the biggest hearing of her life, Arsen Baziyants said.

“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 Sarkisian’s 23-year-old boyfriend, entered their residence at 1809 Warrenville St., near Charleston Boulevard and Hualapai Way.

Mariam Sarkisian 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 saying appears to be a murder-suicide, Thomas shot Mariam Sarkisian, shot her mother and then went outside and turned the gun on himself.

“He was all about that baby; he was insane about it,” said Mariam Sarkisian’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, a family member said.

Gonya Sarkisian, the sisters’ aunt, said Anoush Sarkisian’s four remaining daughters are staying with relatives in Las Vegas. Three of the girls are teens, 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 today, 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 immigrated to the United States from Soviet Armenia in the early 1990s with her husband, Rouben, and their two daughters, Mariam and Emma. The family members arrived at different times.

Rouben and Anoush Sarkisian divorced in 1999; he married an American woman and obtained U.S. citizenship.

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

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

Anoush Sarkisian might have expected the government to come for her, but officials first sought to deport her two eldest daughters.

In 2005, Mariam and Emma — then ages 17 and 18, respectively — were rescued from the brink of deportation to 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?” Baziyants said.

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

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

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

Neither Armenia nor Ukraine, the U.S. government’s alternative destination, would recognize her as a citizen, he 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 uncertainty continued to swirl.

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

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

But Mariam Sarkisian, who immigrated a few months after the deadline with her father, did not meet the requirements.

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

Still, the likelihood that Mariam Sarkisian would have been able to receive citizenship was remote, he said.

Because Emma and Anoush were possible candidates for citizenship, Baziyants said, there was a slim chance for Mariam, whose child is a U.S. citizen.

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

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

Baziyants said he felt he “owed” Anoush Sarkisian, whom he had known since childhood, and would continue to fight for her family.

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

“I hope Emma gets her papers,” he 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 mblasky@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0283.

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