RAYMORE, Mo. -- Myrna Dick is desperate for her young son to take a nap, so she cajoles him with soft Spanish phrases.
''Vete a dormir, mijo," she says, telling Zachary to sleep as he fumbles for Teddy Grahams. ''Take the bear in your arms and the two of you go lie down."
It's a suburban life, in a place that hosts fishing derbies and Easter egg hunts and calls itself the ''Garden Spot of the State." But it's a life that Zachary, snug in his cornflower-colored jumpsuit, was very nearly denied.
In 2004, the government tried to deport Myrna Dick. It charged that she once lied to gain entry to the United States, that she claimed she was an American when she was in fact a Mexican.
But Dick was pregnant, and a federal judge in Missouri said her fetus essentially was already an American citizen. He could not be expelled, and as a result, neither could she -- until Zachary was born.
Then, immigration officials reasserted their claims. In February, a federal appeals court gave immigration officials the right to bar the 31-year-old mother from the United States for life, separating her from her son, now 17 months old, and her American husband.
This time, the family's case is attracting the attention of prominent legislators who say it symbolizes the contradictions of the broken US immigration system. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, a research organization in Washington, nearly 5 percent of US families are headed by undocumented immigrants.
''Illegal immigration is deeply intertwined within our households and communities," said Doris Meissner, former commissioner for the Immigration and Naturalization Service. ''A family like this is an illustration of literally millions of people in the country today."
Dick was born in Chihuahua, Mexico, and grew up in Santa Barbara Tutuaca, a mountain village of 3,000. Her father, Ramon Ochoa, told his 20 children stories of picking string beans and onions in California's Central Valley, where he traveled in the 1950s and 1960s under the United States' first guest-worker program.
Two older sisters had left the family ranch in Santa Barbara to work in Texas and would come back periodically with their children to stock her mother's grocery store.
''Our skin would be black from working outside," Dick said, ''and my nieces would come in from America with their beautiful clothes and their dolls. Seeing them was like dreaming of being a star."
When Dick, an epileptic, suffered from grand mal seizures, her father sold everything and the entire family moved to Texas, so the 12-year-old could get treatment.
They overstayed a temporary visa and settled illegally in Oak Leaf, near Dallas. Dick spent much of the rest of school in the nurse's office, learning English slowly.
No one can really explain why Dick was passed over during the 1980s amnesty, when millions of immigrants were allowed to stay. Most of her family, including both parents, were granted citizenship or permanent residency then.
Still, she came to think of herself as a proud Texan. At work one night, she met Brady Dick at the Dallas sports bar where she was a hostess. They married in 2002, and Brady submitted an application for Myrna Dick to become a US resident by marriage.
But when she went to renew her work visa in spring 2004, the federal government ordered her immediate deportation.
Everyone agrees that Myrna Dick crossed the desert in 1998 to go to her grandmother's funeral in Chihuahua. What's in dispute is what happened next.
Michael Sharma-Crawford, her lawyer, says Myrna Dick never claimed she was a US citizen, but instead told officials she was attempting to enter the country illegally. The government says when agents took her fingerprints, she told them her name was Ivette Trevizo-Frias -- which she denies -- and said she was American.
The government said she lied and that the lie makes her ineligible to ever live in America. ''The consequences are based on her own actions," said Carl Rusnok, a spokesman for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement. ''The charge has been made before about family separation. However there is a strong element of personal responsibility that has to be taken into account when someone violates the law and they are put away in jail."
Six years later, the government reinstated the old deportation order under Trevizo-Frias's name to take Myrna Dick into custody. Myrna Dick was three months pregnant.
''When they sent her to jail, no one told her she could consult a lawyer," said Sharma-Crawford, an immigration attorney in Overland Park, Kan. ''Then, when the case finally went to court, it was like having a murder trial by argument alone. We got no witnesses and could only present evidence that the government got to pick."
The US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit will hear the Dicks' appeal in the next two months, Sharma-Crawford said. If it fails there, he believes the case could proceed to the US Supreme Court.
Sharma-Crawford says the file the Department of Homeland Security keeps under Myrna Dick's name contains a jumble of fingerprints, photographs, and alien identification numbers that arguably could belong to seven people. One computer printout is labeled ''wrong person."
Such administrative disarray, said Meissner, only underscores the challenges the government will face if Congress approves new amnesty or guest-worker laws. The disorganized state of many immigration records and the multiple aliases adopted by many border crossers can make it practically impossible to determine how many times a given person has entered the country.