Hinesburg school tries to help student over immigration status

Hinesburg Community School
A hallway with a painted mural at Hinesburg Community School. Courtesy photo by Jim Westphalen
HINESBURG — A Hinesburg eighth-grader from the Republic of Congo is the focus of efforts by local school officials to help obtain the immigration documentation he needs for an annual school trip to Montreal.

“Fabien is here as a refugee,” said Hinesburg Community School Co-Principal Jeff O’Hara. The student’s case was mentioned publicly during the April 18 Hinesburg Community School Board meeting. O’Hara identified the youth only as Fabien during the meeting and declined later to reveal his last name, citing the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

The trip to Montreal is May 19, and O’Hara indicated he is “pessimistic” the documentation will be issued in time.

“We sat down and talked to him about the unfortunate experience,” O’Hara said. “It’s hard being about 13 years old and being responsible for every aspect of your life.”

Because Fabien’s passport expired he applied for a green card to become a permanent resident.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has said the youth would also have to apply for and receive a refugee travel document along with a green card to be able to travel temporarily outside the country. Timelines vary for the issuing of the documents after a request is logged.

Because it’s doubtful Fabien will be able to go on the Montreal trip, school officials organized an additional eighth-grade trip May 18 to go bowling. Fabien will also be able to participate in the annual sleepover at the school after students return from Montreal.

Chittenden South Supervisory Union Superintendent Elaine Pinckney didn’t comment on the case, referring questions to O’Hara.

Hinesburg Community School Board Chairman Keith Roberts said school commissioners didn’t get involved, adding that board members are “very sensitive to student privacy issues.”

“No, the school board isn’t doing anything because our administration is taking steps to obtain the necessary documents,” Roberts said.

O’Hara said the school at first “made the wrong assumption” that Fabien had the correct documentation to be able to cross the border into Canada. After learning he didn’t, O’Hara turned to a Hinesburg legislator, Rep. William Lippert, to see if he could help.

Patrick Leahy
U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. File photo by Mike Faher/VTDigger
Lippert said school administrators told him the student was a refugee and from a refugee family. Lippert said he reached out to U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy’s state director, John Tracy, for help.

Tracy declined to talk about any role he or the office has in the effort to secure a green card.

Leahy’s communications director and press secretary, David Carle, said the senator wasn’t involved in this situation but had aided the family when they sought to come to this country. “Sen. Leahy’s office helped bring the family here to join their father,” Carle said. “He has not been contacted to help this child, so we don’t know anything about his current situation or immigration case.”

A caseworker in the senator’s office, Susan Sussman, said she spoke with school administrators about the issue. She didn’t go into detail about the nature of those discussions.

A staffer for Sen. Bernie Sanders, Daniel McLean, said Sanders’ office also didn’t log a request to help the Hinesburg youth.

Although Fabien’s native country, the Republic of Congo, isn’t among the countries named in President Donald Trump’s executive orders restricting travel to the U.S., the school’s O’Hara said the boy’s family is still concerned.

Leahy and Sanders have been vocal opponents of the travel bans. The president issued a second, revised order that wouldn’t apply to green card holders. The order is on hold pending court review.

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  • chris wilmot

    This story makes no sense

    He would have needed a visa to travel here- that would have expired long before his passport did.
    When you apply for a visa to enter the USA you agree to:
    “All applicants for tourist and business visas must prove that they are eligible for a visa. During your interview with a consular officer, you must demonstrate that you will leave the United States at the end of your trip and that you will not engage in prohibited activities during your trip. ”

    What’s his actual status?

    And why is leahy aiding people coming here on visas that have no intention of leaving as they are required to by law?

    • Pat McGarry


      According to the article above, “Fabien is here as a refugee”

      His status is refugee, not tourist nor business traveler. If you don’t know what a refugee is, see

      • chris wilmot

        If that was the case then he would not be seeking a green card. And if he was here legally they would not be worried about the Feds deporting him if he tried to cross into Canada.

        There is a legal way to enter the US as a refugee. Had he entered the US as a refugee this would be a non issue.all he would need is a travel document which would have been easily obtained.

        (If you have refugee status and want to travel outside the United States, you will need to obtain a Refugee Travel Document in order to return to the United States. )

        No green card needed

        It appears this person came here on a tourist visa with the hopes he would be granted refugee status once here.

        Just saying you are a refugee does not actually mean he has refugee status

        By all logical accounts he does not have refugee status. Meaning he is here illegally

        • Pat McGarry


          According to the USCIS website I provided a link to

          If you are admitted as a refugee, you must apply for a green card one year after coming to the United States.
          To apply for permanent residency, file Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or to Adjust Status.


          In the time period prior to issuance of a green card, a refugee travel document can be obtained…

          • chris wilmot

            Correct. However according to that same website a refugee only needs a “refugee travel document” in order to travel outside the US.

            There is no mention of needing a green card to travel.

            So whats the problem?

            If he is truely a legal refugee then this is a non issue

          • Pat McGarry


            If you review the link I pasted above, it states:

            You should file a Form I-131 for a Refugee Travel Document
            before you leave the United States. We recommend that you file the form no less than 60 days before you leave the United States.

          • chris wilmot


            That could have been easily done.

            Perhaps explain why this “refugee” would also need a green card….

            Despite the website you cited openly saying a person here as a refugee only needs an easily obtained refugee travel document

  • Peter Chick

    Perhaps this event can be used as an educational moment. As citizens we are quite lucky, but there are still times when extra time and planning are needed.

  • Rich Lachapelle

    Having a legal entanglement that prevents you from participating in a school trip is a small price to pay for the generosity and accommodations afforded you by your new host country, especially compared to the life you had in your former third-world hellhole. “It’s hard being about 13 years old and being responsible for every aspect of your life” but it sure beats being sold into slavery or being a child soldier. How about a little gratitude?