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'Please Let Me Stay'

On this weekend when many immigrants will be sworn in as new citizens, one Missouri family may be spending their last Fourth of July in the United States.

Marvin and Marina Gonzalez moved to Missouri from Costa Rica 16 years ago, raised their daughter Marie there, and became pillars of the community. But, explains co-anchor Hannah Storm on The Early Show, they have no legal right to be in the U.S.

When they moved to Missouri from Costa Rica with six-month visas in 1991, they'd heard that, if they were model citizens, they'd become real citizens in seven years. So they built their own American dream.

"Every member of this family," Bishop John Gaydos said at a recent hearing, "has contributed significantly in our community. Marvin risked his own life opening Gov. Holden's mail during the anthrax scare. Marina has volunteered so generously at Immaculate Conception School, helping kids learn Spanish. Marie graduated from our own high school here, with honors."

But it hardly mattered: When it was discovered that the family was living here illegally, the deportation process began.

"We have to ask ourselves," Gaydos added at that hearing, "what's wrong with our nation's immigration laws that it would take from us a family like this?"

As things stand, they'll be sent back to Costa Rica on Tuesday.

Marie, now 19, who grew up in Missouri, would be a stranger in her own homeland.

"I've been in Jefferson City since first grade," she testified at the hearing. "I've been in the school system. As far as I'm concerned, I'm an American. I just don't have that piece of paper that says I am."

On Friday, Marie

Storm on The Early Show, "It's horrible. It's surreal. I can't believe that Tuesday is so close. I can't even express in words how difficult this is for my family. But I'm still holding out hope someone can do something about this."

She explained that the family failed in its efforts to overcome the initial incorrect information they'd been given about U.S. immigration laws: "We did go back and seek more advice. Unfortunately, me being the translator at a young age, not having enough funds to really afford good lawyers, a lot of things played into this. Just the complexity of the immigration laws, how really messed up and broken the system is. You know, hindsight is 20/20. It's horrible."

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) authored a bill meant to help good students and others in Maria's situation. It's been dubbed the "Dream Act."

"Just about 65,000 students find themselves in exactly the same position as Marie," he pointed out to Storm. "They've known no other country their entire lives but the United States. They've been great students, have great grades. They want to go on to college, develop their skills and really give back to America.

"The simple question this bill asks is, is America better if Marie Gonzalez leaves our country or stays? It's clear that, if the Gonzalez family stays and Marie has a chance to contribute, we'll be a better nation. So, the 'Dream Act' says you can earn your way to citizenship. You can start down a very long path, but a certain legal path that one day will bring citizenship to a young woman like Marie Gonzalez."

Marie added a final plea: "Please don't take me away from this country. This is the only country I have known. Don't make me say goodbye to my friends. My family is here in all aspects. I just want that second chance, that opportunity to just continue to make my dreams happen, get that chance to go to college. And just give me a second chance. Give my family a second chance.

"We've been a hard-working family. …Our community has just been amazing. That shows what kind of people we are. I am just really pleading for that chance to stay in the country I love and for me to be a part of this country and make it better than it already is."