Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

After years of waiting, finally a green card for Tampa resident

Felicitas Morales-Roque, 24, may join the Marines or Air Force, but her long-term goal is a State Department position.

Photo by Zach Boyden-Holmes

Felicitas Morales-Roque, 24, may join the Marines or Air Force, but her long-term goal is a State Department position.

TAMPA — Felicitas Morales-Roque feels like she's finally out of the shadows. And not the way she expected.

"You'd think after 20 years, there'd be so much more," she said last week after gaining her green card, or permanent residency.

Morales-Roque, now 24, spent the last six years studying for a dual bachelor's degree in business administration and international studies, wondering if she would ever work legally in this country.

Her parents brought her to the United States from Mexico when she was a toddler. They filed for residency under the sponsorship of her grandfather, a U.S. citizen. While waiting and working in the fields, their visas expired. And then her grandfather died, leaving all their petitions in limbo.

The St. Petersburg Times first published a story about Morales-Roque when she was a senior at Wesley Chapel High School in 2003, when the artist and honor student with a 4.4 grade-point average realized she was an illegal immigrant and her dreams of college might be dashed.

She tossed college brochures in the garbage, knowing that with her immigration status, she wouldn't qualify for student loans or public scholarships.

A glimmer of hope came when Saint Leo University gave her a private scholarship. Meanwhile, community activists and lawyers took steps on her behalf, trying various routes to legalize her status. All the measures fell through.

Morales-Roque put her biggest hopes on the DREAM Act, proposed legislation that would offer legal status to illegal immigrants brought here as children and who graduated from a U.S. high school and committed to attend college or the military.

She traveled to Washington with lawyers and activists, lobbying members of Congress. Year after year, the bill failed. Morales-Roque despaired.

"I was done," she said about her mind-set at the time.

As her studies neared an end, she worked under-the-table waiter jobs to survive. The past two years, she won private scholarships for internships around the country, in Web design and youth activism, mentoring other young people on how to organize politically and express themselves artistically. She liked the work, though she had bigger dreams.

Then last year, a breakthrough. Immigration reinstated her parents' petition for residency under new guidelines adopted in the past few years. They allow immigrants to reopen their cases if they have another relative who is a resident or citizen to substitute for the sponsor who died.

Decisions are made on a case-by-case basis, said Morales-Roque's attorney, John Ovink. In the spring, Morales-Roque's parents gained their residency. Then Ovink filed for her petition to be reinstated under her parents. She won.

Officials told her to appear at the immigration offices in Tampa on Tuesday.

She and Ovink walked in. She took an oath to tell the truth. A few questions: Were you ever arrested? No. Do you use drugs? No. Are you a Communist? No. Address, date of birth?

In less than a half-hour, they were done. She walked out a U.S. resident.

"Was that it?" she asked Ovink. Within minutes, her new life opened before her, one that will allow her to move into her field and beyond the sales job she obtained a few months ago after receiving her work permit.

"Wait a minute — I can actually put out resumes and really go to work," she said. She is considering the Marine Corps or the Air Force, if she can enter as an officer and join the linguistics program. But her long-term goal entails working for the State Department on foreign affairs.

But she feels sad for many of her friends still waiting for the DREAM Act to pass. The bill was reintroduced yet again this spring. "It's the same thing, how I was losing my vision, that's how they are," she said of her friends who have college and professional potential but want to give up.

"When you lose your vision, you lose your hope," she said. She wants to tell them to hang on. But she's not sure what to say.

Saundra Amrhein can be reached at or (813) 661-2441.

After years of waiting, finally a green card for Tampa resident 08/09/09 [Last modified: Sunday, August 9, 2009 9:05pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Rowdies shut out at Pittsburgh


    PITTSBURGH — The Rowdies lost their first USL game in nearly a month, 1-0 to Pittsburgh on Thursday night.

  2. Trump reveals that he didn't record Comey after all


    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump declared Thursday he never made and doesn't have recordings of his private conversations with ousted former FBI director James Comey, ending a monthlong guessing game that he started with a cryptic tweet and that ensnared his administration in yet more controversy.

    President Donald Trump said Thursday that he didn’t record his conversations with James Comey.
  3. Lightning fans, don't get attached to your first-round draft picks

    Lightning Strikes

    CHICAGO — When Lightning GM Steve Yzerman announces his first-round pick tonight in the amateur draft at No. 14, he'll invite the prospect onto the stage for the once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunity.

    Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Jonathan Drouin (27) eludes  Montreal Canadiens left wing Phillip Danault (24) during the second period of Wednesday???‚??„?s (12/28/16) game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Montreal Canadiens at the Amalie Arena in Tampa.
  4. Investigation Discovery TV show profiles 2011 Landy Martinez murder case


    The murder of a St. Petersburg man will be featured this week on a new true crime series Murder Calls on Investigation Discovery.

    Jose Adame sits in a Pinellas County courtroom during his 2016 trial and conviction for first-degree murder. Adame was convicted of first-degree murder last year for torturing and then executing his boyfriend as he pleaded for his life in 2011. Now it will be featured in a new true crime series Murder Calls on Investigation Discovery. The episode will air on June 26 at 9 p.m. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times]
  5. Uhuru mayoral candidate Jesse Nevel protests exclusion from debate


    ST. PETERSBURG — Jesse Nevel, the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement candidate for mayor, on Thursday demanded that he be allowed to participate in a July 25 televised debate between incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman and challenger Rick Baker.

    Mayoral candidate Jesse Nevel holds a news conference outside the headquarters of the Tampa Bay Times on Thursday to protest his exclusion from the mayoral debate. Nevel is a member of the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement.