US changes mind about deporting Thai

ST LOUIS — A Missouri woman who faced deportation to her native Thailand after losing her permanent residence status over a felony theft conviction will remain in the US following a last-minute reversal by immigration officials.

Komdown "Dow" Boyer, who moved to the US as a child after her mother married an American soldier, was convicted late last year of stealing money from the pizza restaurant where she had worked for a decade, most recently as general manager. Boyer, 44, was sentenced to probation and ordered to pay about $51,000 in restitution after pleading guilty to felony theft. She said the money was for hospital bills for her husband, a mechanic whose legs were crushed by a car.

Boyer has three sons, two of whom are in the US military, and a 5-year-old daughter.

Defence attorney Javad Khazaeli told The Associated Press his client was taken suddenly on Monday from a Missouri county jail to an international flight leaving Chicago's O'Hare International Airport before the decision was overturned. Mr Khazaeli, a former federal counter-terrorism prosecutor for the Department of Homeland Security, said the government has that discretion in cases involving some low-level offences.

"It took a while, but we got the case in front of the right people," said Mr Khazaeli, who coincidentally was driving to St. Louis from his former home in Chicago on Monday when Boyer's husband left a series of messages on his cellphone. "They exercised discretion at the last minute."

Shawn Neudauer, a spokesman for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Washington, said the agency released Boyer from custody and placed her on supervised release while it "conducts a further review of her case".

Late Monday afternoon, Boyer arrived at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, where she was formally released and reunited with her husband, Justin. With tears in her eyes and carrying her belongings in a small mesh laundry bag, she gave her husband a long, deep hug before leaving the airport. The couple planned to return to their home in Farmington, Missouri, about 120 kilometres to the south. Boyer had been jailed since March in Lincoln County, Missouri, about 100 kilometres northwest of St. Louis and a two-hour drive from her home.

"When I saw we were going to the airport, I just started bawling," Boyer said in an interview Monday night at her lawyers' downtown St. Louis offices. "It was a nightmare."

Many Farmington residents, including the owners of the Cici's Pizza where Boyer worked, rallied to stop her looming deportation with a social media campaign.

"I can't believe how much love and support I have from people I don't even know," she said. "I just want to go home and hold my kids."

Mr Khazaeli said the legal case against Boyer continues as he negotiates with the local prosecutor to get her conviction vacated.

"This case is nowhere near over," the attorney said, adding that Boyer plans to change her status from legal permanent resident to naturalised citizen once the criminal case is resolved.

St. Francois County prosecuting attorney Jerrod Mahurin told the Daily Journal newspaper of Park Hills, Missouri, that he will join Bower's attorneys in asking a judge to set aside her conviction, which both the prosecutor and the defence lawyers said was obtained without Boyer being fully aware that a guilty plea could mean a forced separation from her family.

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