On her family's last evening in the United States, 11-year-old Ani played one last time with her best friend while her curly-haired sister, Lily, fussily toddled nearby.
Their parents were preoccupied, stuffing seven years of memories into suitcases.
In January, Vardan Sargsyan's visa expired, along with his hopes to continue working legally as a gymnastics coach at Great American Gymnastic Express in Blue Springs. A month ago, a final rejection notice prompted the family's rushed exodus.
On Thursday, they flew to their native Armenia with a tinge of hope of returning someday.
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"Other people gonna tell us we are illegal here," the coach said. "We don't want that."
The family left the country of its own volition because his six-year visa expired and the government rejected his requests for both a green card and an "extraordinary ability" visa.
The final rejection letter told him that he is a good gymnastics coach, just not good enough to stay here.
His story sheds light on the difficulties that immigrants encounter in trying to deal with a faceless system.
"It's hard to do it legally," said immigrant rights lawyer Angela Ferguson. "This is someone who has legal counsel and money and qualifications, and he still falls out of status because our laws are just so complicated."
Said Sargsyan: "You can't meet them. You can't call them. Maybe somebody did wrong something. They give us limited information."
Sargsyan, a former national champion gymnast for Armenia and a member of the Soviet national team, moved to the United States seven years ago to work with some of the best gymnasts in the world. The Blue Springs gym has produced Olympic-caliber athletes.
Sargsyan does not fully understand the letters he received and feels that the government is not looking closely enough at his case.
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