A 2-year-old girl who was threatened with deportation from the U.K.—despite both her parents being citizens— has won the right to stay in the country.
“No words can explain how much this means to me and my family,” Lucy Dutton’s mother Lindsay Dutton, 30, tells TIME. “Waking up this morning and knowing my daughter wasn’t going to be ripped out of my life was a true blessing. I felt humbled and grateful.”
Lucy was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, and brought to the United Kingdom by her parents in August 2018, when she was 11 months old. Her parents, both originally from South Africa, claimed British citizenship through their parents, who were born in the U.K. But British citizenship through descent only extends to one generation, meaning Lucy did not have an automatic right to stay in the U.K. As a result, she was living in the country on a child visitor’s visa.
After her parents applied for an extension, the U.K.’s Home Office, which is in charge of immigration, sent a letter to Lucy telling that her the application had been denied because she had not lived in the U.K. for seven consecutive years. It was two days before her second birthday. Her parents were told that they could return to South Africa with Lucy.
“Getting that refusal letter was the worst day of my life. It was the biggest nightmare any mother could endure and it will affect me for a long time,” Lindsay Dutton says.
The reversal of the decision to deport the toddler comes after the family’s local member of Parliament, Tonia Antoniazza, got involved.
On Monday, the U.K. Immigration Minister Seema Kennedy met with Antoniazza to assure her that if the family apply for Lucy’s “indefinite leave to remain” in the U.K., her application would be granted, Antoniazza tells TIME.
The family’s lawyers had initially applied for temporary permission to stay in the U.K., but this was incorrect advice, according to Antoniazza. Antoniazza, a member of the Labour Party, is now helping Lucy’s family with the new application.
Dutton’s solicitors did not reply to TIME’s request for comment.
“When I found out about [the minister’s] assurances, I was jumping up and down with excitement. I cried tears of joy and had goosebumps,” Dutton, speaking from her home in Swansea, Wales, says. “I called my mother and we both cried on the phone. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t have words for the first time in my life — and it still feels like a bit of a dream.”
Now that the family has been assured that Lucy’s application to remain in the U.K. will be approved, Dutton is hopeful for her daughter’s future. “This decision has done so much for my daughter’s future. She gets to grow up with her friends and family here in the U.K. and enjoy the life that I was trying to create for her here so that she can have a chance of excelling,” Dutton says.
Lucy’s family set up a GoFundMe page to pay for the legal fees for Lucy’s first application and her appeal. They have since raised more than £4,600 ($6,000), surpassing their target of £4,000. The additional money raised will help pay off the high-interest loan Lucy’s mother was forced to take out to pay for more than £3,000 ($4,000) in administrative and legal fees for the first application.
“To see people come together to help a complete stranger, you run out of ways to say thank you,” Dutton says. “And you don’t know whether that word can ever express how much their support means to you.”
A Home Office spokesperson confirmed that the agency had been in contact with Dutton’s representatives to discuss next steps.
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