A French woman who’s lived in Beverly for nearly 30 years narrowly avoided deportation after immigration officials agreed Wednesday to review her case.
Corina Turcinovic, 55, was ordered to leave the country by July 8 after being denied a green card in March. Her lawyers on Monday petitioned for an emergency court hearing, arguing her application was “unlawfully” denied in an “arbitrary and capricious” way.
Turcinovic was packed and ready to leave the country Sunday. Then U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agreed to hold off on deporting Turcinovic for 60 days as officials consider reopening her case.
“I feel relieved,” she said. “The first thing I’m going to do is unpack. Then I’m going to sleep for a whole week.”
Turcinovic came to the United States from Paris in early 1990 after a drunken driver hit her fiancé, Marin Turcinovic, while on tour with his rock band in Fairview, New Jersey.
“I took the first plane I found to New York,” she said.
The accident left Marin Turcinovic paralyzed from the neck down. Corina Turcinovic stuck by his side and managed to get him transferred to a premier Chicago rehabilitation center in April 1990. Six months later, the couple moved into a single-story house in Beverly, where she took care of him around the clock.
In May 1990, immigration officials filed a deportation order against Turcinovic for overstaying her 90-day grace period of being in the U.S. without a visa — but also allowed her to stay in the country to take care of her fiancé. The couple married in 1996.
Marin Turcinovic died in 2004. Three yeas later, in December 2007, ICE agents arrested Corina Turcinovic and sent her to a detention center in McHenry County. ICE released Turcinovic in January 2008 thanks to a last-minute intervention by Rep. Dan Lipinski.
Since then, ICE allowed Turcinovic to stay in the country on a yearly basis. In 2017, Turcinovic married Robert Wesche, 70, a retired financial consultant and U.S. citizen.
But three months ago, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services denied Turcinovic’s green card application, citing her deportation order from 1990. Weeks later, ICE told Turcinovic she would need to leave the country by Monday.
“The denial boiled down to the fact that ICE wanted to deport her. What they didn’t consider was that the entire time she’s been here has been with permission from the government,” said Turcinovic’s lawyer, Scott Pollock. “It doesn’t make much sense for her not to comply with a removal order when the government is telling her she can stay.”
In her court petition, Turcinovic argued a government mistake prevented her from becoming a legal resident 15 years ago.
Her first husband, Marin Turcinovic, was in line to become a U.S. citizen in 2004 when officials requested he appear in person to be fingerprinted — something he couldn’t do because of his paraplegia.
Officials tossed his application after he failed to appear. He died a month later.
“If the USCIS had done its job in a proper manner, Marin would have become a U.S. citizen and Ms. Turcinovic would have had a valid claim for legal status as the widow of a United States citizen,” the petition reads.
In May, Rep. Lipinski filed a “private bill” that would naturalize Turcinovic’s immigration status. A month later, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., head of the Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship, wrote a letter to ICE in support of the bill.
“To be perfectly clear, ICE has the authority and the discretion to allow [Turcinovic] to finally live a life of peace and stability as a permanent resident,” the letter said. “Its refusal to do so is clear evidence of the senselessness of this administration’s cruel and unforgiving immigration policies.”
ICE has yet to respond to Lofgren’s letter. The agency also did not respond to requests to comment for this story.
Turcinovic is grateful for her chance to spend at least another two months in the United States but recognizes that she’s privileged to be in this position.
“Without a good attorney, you cannot fight the deportation machine,” she said. “There’s a lot of people who can’t afford to fight these kind of injustices.”
Carlos Ballesteros is a corps member in Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of Chicago’s South and West sides.