Carlos arrived to the US as a teenager in the 90s. He graduated from high school, went to college, we met in 2003, dated for 4 1/2 years, married in 2007. Tired of living in the shadows in the US, Carlos made the decision to move out of the country and a month after that, I joined him in exploring options in Europe and then finally settling in Northern Mexico. In October 2008, while 8 months pregnant with our son, Carlos and I received the final word from the US Consulate in Cuidad Juarez, Mexico. He is not eligible for a visa to live in the US as my spouse, and he also isn't eligible for the hardship waiver that US citizen spouses usually get to file when their loved one isn't eligible for a visa.
All this because of one unfortunate day when he was 16, when he was forced by a parent to seek entry to the US using a relative's US birth certificate instead of the visitor's visa he already possessed. Under immigration law -- INA 212 A 6 C ii to be specific -- a false claim of US citizenship carries a lifetime ban with no waiver. Still, the fact that Carlos was ineligible for the waiver was a surprise to most who knew our case, including the legal counsel we sought before the interview. Evidently the immigration world had been misinformed, because everyone was under the impression the consulate would not be applying this law to people who were minors at the time the incident occurred, as minors are generally considered to have limited capacity to make these decisions or understand the implications.
So, we fought it. In November, our wonderful lawyer Laurel Scott proved her ongoing excellence by sending an expertly crafted appeal to the Department of State in Washington. Basically, the argument was that since Carlos was too young to consent to the claim of citizenship, and because it happened against his will, that section of the law should not be used against him. Unfortunately, weeks later, the appeals people in Washington decided that INA 212 A 6 C ii does not require the person to have intended anything. They simply had to commit it. In other words, case closed.
In December 2008, I desperately sought the help of Senator Durbin's office in at least getting Carlos to the US on a Humanitarian Parole visa in time for the birth of our son. It was not to be. Our son was born two days before Christmas, with Carlos watching and participating by Skype.
In March 2009, I turned to my federal congressional representative, Bill Foster. Within days, his immigration caseworker had mailed a letter of support. I put this letter on the top of a 60-page packet requesting a Humanitarian Parole from Washington and prayed this would be our chance to get the family together in the US for at least a few more months. March 16, I sent the packet. March 31, Washington sent their form-letter response. Denied.
Through the summer and fall of 2009, our steadfast lawyer continued with the appeals and attempts to break through this brick wall, but nothing worked. That fall and the following spring we tried to gain support from Senator Durbin's office to sponsor a private bill on our behalf, but to no avail.
So finally, after 3 1/2 years of living in separate countries, at the end of the summer of 2011, we all left our lives in our countries of birth, and moved to South Korea where we are finally together.Meanwhile, we re-opened our push for justice, filing a new visa application and attending a new visa interview where we were denied again at the US Embassy in Seoul in November of 2012. This was part of our lawyer's master plan to continue the fight. About two weeks later, we welcomed our daughter, born here in Seoul.
In March of 2013, the US Department of State published a new approach to the issue that has us banned for life; it seems that they will now start looking deeper at the specifics in cases where the immigrant was a minor at the time, and it looks promising for our family. Our lawyer has been a few steps ahead of this change and we are currently finalizing the arguments that will hopefully lead to being cleared of this inadmissibility and on to "simply" seeking a waiver for remaining 4 years of the 10-year ban that was triggered when Carlos remained in the US without authorization after his 18th birthday.
So what's our current status? I teach English, Lucas attends kindergarten, and Carlos takes care of the baby at home as we fight for a long-term solution for our family. We refuse to accept that my country thinks this little of the life I've worked hard to build, of my skills and abilities, and of the investments that so many others have made in my future. To reduce my entire experience, and to limit our children's futures, to a form letter denying my family a chance to exist together in the US for something none of us could help or choose is not only heartless, it's unacceptable.
In the US, criminal acts are judged in a justice system that weighs the unique facts of the situation, and makes decisions of guilt and sentencing accordingly. However, immigration violations (which generally fall on the civil spectrum of infractions, rather than criminal) are judged in a totally different format, with the regulations for holding people inadmissible quite rigid and the penalties exceedingly harsh, unbending, and unable to be tailored to the infraction or the person committing it. Not only that, but the laws are terribly unbalanced, offering reprieve in certain situations but not in others. As immigration reform advances onward, US citizen families like mine need to be included in the reforms. Not only does the US need to find a solution for those 11 million living inside its borders with immigration violations in their past, but it also needs one for the those who have "gone back to their countries", "gotten in line", and "tried to do it the right way," especially when they have US citizen spouses and children in the balance.
It took one parent's mistake to ruin our family's future, and it's going to take hundreds of our friends to restore justice to this situation. Thank you for being one of them! We appreciate all of the wonderful support we've received from all our family and friends, both the ones we've met and the ones we've only encountered online. Thank you!