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Following a son’s dream

Bittersweet circumstances led to a Colombian couple’s knowledge of who was America’s first president.

Armando and Leonor Garzon both answered that question when they passed their citizenship exams Oct. 15, a little more than seven years after their son, Edgar, was murdered and robbed on a Jackson Heights street. They will be sworn in later this year.

“It was the dream of my son to be an American citizen, and when he died, I thought I could never become a citizen,” Leonor Garzon said through a translator. “It’s been a long seven years. We always wanted to have justice and we always wanted to know who killed our son.”

Armando, 74, and Leonor, 71, came to the United States in 2001 when they learned of their son’s murder. Ironically, what brought them to this country was also what jeopardized their chances of staying.

Edgar Garzon had filed a permanent residency request for his parents with the U.S. Department of Immigration and Naturalization Services. With his death, the application would likely have died, too.

But the crime attracted the attention of elected officials, who helped champion the Garzons’ efforts to stay.

U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D−Jackson Heights) said he helped get the agency to consider Leonor’s sister, a California citizen, as a sponsor for the application.

“You’ll be the best sort of American citizens — those who weren’t born into it,” Crowley told them last Thursday in his office. He noted the couple said they had wanted to get their citizenship before Election Day, but it was not possible.

The murder happened Aug. 15, 2001 around 4 a.m. Edgar Garzon was walking home on 77th Street from Friends Tavern, a gay bar on Roosevelt Avenue, when he was punched in the head and robbed by John McGhee, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said.

The attack fractured Garzon’s skull, Brown said. Garzon, a naturalized citizen who worked as a theater set designer, lapsed into a coma and died Sept. 4, 2001, at Elmhurst Hospital Center.

McGhee fled to England after the crime. He was arrested at Kennedy Airport in 2006 after being forced to leave England for lying on a citizenship application and convicted in Queens earlier this year. He is serving a term of 22 years to life in prison.

The murder prompted an outpouring of support from Jackson Heights’ gay community, including Democratic district leader Daniel Dromm, who helped the Garzons fight to stay in the United States.

“I will always stand by the side of the gay community here,” Leonor said, noting her son was proud to be gay.

Now Armando, a retired architect, and Leonor, a retired teacher, own an apartment in Jackson Heights. Leonor said she hopes to volunteer in the neighborhood teaching Latinos to read, speak and write proper Spanish.

“I have enough knowledge,” she said. “I can do it.”

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e−mail at jwalsh@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 154.

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