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US: Unable to produce visa, teen is jailed

High school student Manuel Bartsch is facing deportation to his native Germany after discovering that his American step-grandfather never completed paperwork eight years ago to make his stay legal in the United States.

Bartsch has been jailed since Christmas.

An immigration judge in Cleveland refused Wednesday to release Bartsch, 18, saying it isn't clear whether he has the authority.

Judge M. Christopher Grant said he will consider evidence that might allow him to free the teenager to finish high school with his friends.

A hearing on the case will be continued January 13th.

Classmates and neighbors in the northwest Ohio village where Bartsch lives -- he has always assumed he is an American citizen -- have rallied behind him while questioning the wisdom of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.

Some have circulated petitions to give to immigration officials while the Pandora-Gilboa school board has asked that Bartsch be allowed to stay at least until he graduates this spring.

"Sending an 18-year-old kid back to Germany doesn't make the country any safer," classmate Louis Schulte said. "What good is the law if it sends a good kid like Manuel back to Germany?"

Ed Kolhoff, a former deputy sheriff, said the law is not always black and white and that the government should be more compassionate. "Putting him in jail is no way to correct what I consider a clerical error," he said Tuesday.

Bartsch's step-grandfather -- a U.S. citizen who was his guardian -- returned to Germany in the summer, leaving Bartsch behind so he could graduate. Bartsch discovered the incomplete paperwork while he was searching for documents to prove his citizenship.

When he couldn't find any, he contacted U.S. immigration authorities hoping the office would have records. Instead, he was detained over Christmas weekend and has been jailed since.

Immigration officials are obligated to follow the law that clearly states that anyone who doesn't follow visa rules must be detained immediately and deported within 90 days, said Greg Palmore, spokesman for the agency.

Bartsch's attorney, David Leopold, said that the teen is in the country legally because the United States let him return years ago after he and his grandfather visited Canada. He is hopeful that the court will agree and allow Bartsch to graduate.

"My hope is that somebody will look at it at some level and say, 'Let's rethink this,' " Leopold said.

The Associated Press has asked immigration officials for permission to interview Bartsch, but he cannot accept phone calls while in jail.

Bartsch, born in Esselbach, Germany, had arrived in the the United States on a 90-day visa in 1997 and easily blended in to this rural community.

He played on the football team at Pandora-Gilboa High School, worked odd jobs around farms and was popular with girls, all the while thinking he was a U.S. citizen. His roots didn't help him with high school German classes, though; Bartsch struggled like everyone else, Schulte remembered.

Bartsch also took an interest in photography, and he planned to attend college next year to become an accountant, friends say.

"He's such an easygoing kid," said Karen Blankenship, who has known Bartsch from the first week he moved into town and nicknamed him "Butch." She briefly helped raise the boy and considers him to be a son. "He's good to everyone."

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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Posted in: News by NewsBot on January 13, 2006 @ 12:00 AM

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