Belarus teen has right to stay in Petaluma, lawyer says



Immigration attorney Christopher Kerosky said Tanya Kazyra was interviewed at length by local authorities after she failed to show up Tuesday at San Francisco International Airport to fly home with a group of 24 other children.

The girl has developed a bond with the family she has been visiting for nearly a decade and simply wanted to extend her visit with them, Kerosky said.

Her tourist visa is good until November, so she is not violating immigration laws, he said.

"No one is pressuring her or coercing her in the slightest," Kerosky said. "She has a loving family here who has known her for 10 years. They have become very close. At the moment her only desire is to exercise her legal right to spend a little more time with the family."

He said her future was unclear. He said she's asking for a six month visa extension.

"For the moment, she has a valid visa and she is not breaking any immigration laws," the lawyer said.

Meanwhile, organizers of a Petaluma-based summer program that brought the 25 Belarusian children to the country were frantically trying to arrange return flights Friday.

Diane Decicio, president of the Chernobyl Children's Project, said 24 of the children and one chaperone were likely to fly to Frankfurt, Germany, were they would be met by a Belarusian plane.

Another chaperone and the girl, Tanya Kazyra of Borisov, will remain in Petaluma.

"I'm trying desperately to get the other 24 children back to Belarus," said Decicio, speaking by phone from a travel agency. "But I don't have reservations yet."

A Belarusian embassy official who flew out from Washington D.C. said Friday the government is pressing for her immediate return.

Oleg Popov, a vice counsel, said officials view the incident as a form of kidnapping. However, he acknowledged the girl has indicated to him she is staying on her own free will.

"Everyone wants her home," Popov said. "She can't stay here. It breaks the agreement she was here by. For sure we see the situation like kidnapping."

A spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department said the agency is in contact with Belarus but declined to discuss the details of the case.

Her lawyer said the girl spoke by phone to her legal guardian in Belarus, an elderly grandmother. In past talks with the grandmother, the woman said she supported her decision to stay, Kerosky said.

"It was the host family's understandng that the grandmother wanted her to stay," Kerosky said. "They discussed it many times."

Kerosky said the girl has a "very, very difficult home situation." She has limited contact with her parents and her grandmother is elderly and in poor health, he said.



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