CHILLICOTHE, Mo. -- Lauren Gray has been in the United States legally since she was four years old. On the Fourth of July, she sat down with FOX 4 to explain why she has to go back to her native England.
"I have given my life to this country and done everything they have wanted me to do," she said. "I have respected everybody. I have no criminal record. I have done everything right, and now I have to go."
Gray says that's because she turns 21 in August. And after years of waiting and red tape, her green card that was supposed to be issued last year still isn't here. That means she has to go back to England, leaving her family and friends behind.
Gray and her family have been legal immigrants, living in Chillicothe since 1995. She just graduated from Stephen's College in Columbia, Mo., with a bachelor's degree of fine arts in dance.
"I need to start my life," she said. "I'm an adult now, I need to act like an adult and have a job and take care of myself."
But because Gray won't be considered a dependent after her 21st birthday next month, she won't be able to work legally in the United States, forcing her to move back to England.
In 1983 Gray's grandparents came to the U.S. from England to farm.
"From the day I could understand, my dad always said, 'we are going to live in America,'" said Ali Gray, Lauren's mother.
After a farm accident, where Gray's grandmother had a stroke and lost her leg, her family came to the U.S. on work visas to help. Gray's parents bought a motel and restaurant that employs 30 people.
In 1998 Gray's grandparents became U.S. citizens. They petitioned for Gray's family to gain citizenship as well. Gray's family is on "the list." But while they were supposed to receive their green cards last November, they are still waiting. Gray's mom says because of a stall in the system they are hoping to have them by next year. But Gray's time is up.
"I just don't understand why," Gray said "Where did we go wrong to have this happen to us?"
Gray launched a petition on www.change.org in hopes of gaining attention for legal immigrants. And while it likely will not impact her situation, she hopes it will help others, including her sister who will face the same situation when she turns 21.
In the meantime, the Grays will wait for their green cards. Lauren hopes to come back to the U.S. and dance professionally as soon as she has it. But until then she plans to get a job in London and audition there.