ATLANTA – Millions of illegal immigrants now reside in the United States, but many did not come here by choice. They were brought here by parents or other family members when they were young.
Now, South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham (search) is trying help these young immigrants become legal. He introduced a bill that would allow Griselda Negrete, a high school junior originally from Mexico, to stay in the country to finish school and apply for permanent U.S. residence.
Negrete, an honors student, was brought from Mexico to the United States by her mother when she was a toddler. She said no one ever questioned her about her citizenship until last year.
"I accompanied my aunt as a translator to an immigration office in Charleston and that's when the officer began to question me about my legal status and that's when they issued me the warrant of arrest," Negrete said.
The immigration office also gave Negrete a deportation order (search) requiring her to return to Mexico, a place she considers a foreign country.
"The first thing that came to my mind was that I was going to have to leave my family and all my friends, everyone I know," she said.
Glenda Bunce, an immigration attorney, said Negrete did enter the country illegally, but she was only two years old at the time.
"She had no knowledge that she was breaking the law," Bunce said.
Graham's bill passed the Senate, but was not taken up by the House. He said he will introduce private legislation to help Negrete finish school if that's what it takes. But immigration reform advocates say making exceptions for any illegal immigrant sends the wrong message.
"We have somewhere in the neighborhood 10 to 12 million people living illegally in the United States, and I'm sure many of those people have compelling stories, compelling reasons why they should be allowed to stay in the United States. But we can't have special legislation for each of those people," said Ira Mehlman with the Federation for American Immigration Reform (search).
Immigration officials are unlikely to deport Negrete while the legislation is pending. In the meantime, the teen will stay in school in the United States, with aspirations of one day becoming an immigration attorney.
Click in the box near the top of the story to watch a report by FOX News' Jonathan Serrie.