Dear Mr. President...

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By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

AUSTINVILLE — The lack of a fishing license for her Mexican stepfather led to a heartfelt letter to President Obama that became a national Scholastic contest winner.

Scholastic Book Clubs named Laurel Elementary fifth-grader Desiree Nguyen as one of 200 "very smart and insightful winners" of the "Dear Mr. President” contest, chosen from nearly 15,000 entries from across the United States.

Fifth grade teacher Anita Dalton gave her students a chance to enter the writing contest for extra credit.

After congratulating President Barack Obama for making history as the first black president of the United States, Nguyen launched into a question that affects her family.

Nguyen comes from a multicultural family — she's black, her father's from Mexico, she has Vietnamese cousins.

She and her mother are U.S. citizens, but her father is not.

"My question is, 'What are you going to do about illegal aliens?'" the 10-year-old's winning letter asked.

Her dad — actually her stepfather, but she notes that he's the only father she's ever known — has been living in the United States for 15 years.

"Sometimes I get scared that one day my dad would have to go back to Mexico," she said. "He works hard and pays his taxes."

The federal government has assigned him a tax I.D. number so he can pay taxes, but refuses to give him a Social Security card, Nguyen noted.

"They know the Mexicans are illegal, but they still make them pay their taxes, so is not the government just as wrong?" she asked.

Because of his immigration status, Nguyen's stepdad can't get any official documentation — that includes a fishing license, she explained.

"I really don't think it's fair because me and my dad wanted to go fishing this year, but we can't because he can't get a fishing license," she told The Gazette.

Riding on an airplane and crossing the border to visit family in Mexico are also out for her stepfather. He's scared that, if he returns to Mexico, he won't be able to come back to his family here.

Nguyen visited Mexico with her mother while her dad remained behind.

She doesn't like the way people have to live in Mexico. The people she saw there had to take bucket showers and had to use car batteries to have light at night.

Her stepfather works hard all day long. Nguyen's hope is that President Obama can solve this situation and make it right.

She believes that the president can make a difference if he tackles this.

Dalton said it's awesome that Nguyen won the nationwide contest. "I'm very proud of her."

Nguyen will receive a "10-book presidential library" set.

Other letters submitted to the contest:

• Seth D. Edwards shared an idea to make the school day two hours longer. Students would go four days a week with Friday off.

He'd also like to see the prices of homes, cars and health insurance become more affordable. "Some people don't make much money at work and have to spend half of their money buying gas to get to work."

• Gracie Davidson asked how the president deals with all the stress of his office. "I get really nervous when I must speak in front of my class. Do you get nervous when speaking in front of lots of people?"

• Brittany Lynn Semones is concerned about the high cost of gas, food, health insurance and the lack of jobs.

"Families are losing homes, cars, everything they have. What are you going to do about the elderly? They can't afford to live on Social Security when things keep going up.”

• Hannah Hill shared her interest in sports like softball.

"I thought really hard about what kind of advice an 11-year-old girl could give the President of the United States, and you would really listen to," she said. "My advice to you would be to keep God first in your life and to always pray before you make a big decision."