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Divided Families



One of the many horrible things about the deportations and criminalization at the heart of American immigration policy is that it divides families, with parents sent back to Mexico or Central America while their children, birthright citizens, remain in the U.S. While Obama’s immigration record is pretty mixed, his plan to reduce deportations that was overturned by racist judges would have helped solve this particular problem. Alas. But the problem is very real, unless you don’t want Mexicans in this country at all, which then dividing families is only a problem in that you probably wish you could deport the kids too.

“I understand that I’m unauthorized and I know I did something wrong that went against U.S. law, but I’m not a criminal,” she said. “I haven’t committed any serious offenses such as robbery, murder or prostitution.”

Sanchez entered the United States illegally in 2000. Before that, she had attempted to illegally come through the San Ysidro Port of Entry, but agents turned her away.

She met Paulsen in Vista shortly after arriving. He noticed her at the bus stop in front of the body shop where he worked as a mechanic. Paulsen didn’t know a word of Spanish at the time, and the two used an acquaintance as an interpreter. The couple married just one month after they met, in a civil ceremony in Vista.

Sanchez was filing paperwork for legalization in 2006 when she was summoned out of the country, to an appointment with immigration authorities at the U.S. Consulate in Cuidad Juarez. Authorities told her she would be prohibited from returning home to Vista for 10 years, despite the fact that Paulsen, 51, is a U.S. citizen and a Marine veteran.

Immigration law at the time stipulated that applicants seeking legal status must return to their country of origin. But once an applicant who had been living in the United States without permission left the country, they were automatically barred from re-entering for at least three years, sometimes for up to a decade.

“My whole world came crashing down.… You can’t believe that in one minute they’re destroying your life, your family,” Sanchez said in Spanish from her home in Tijuana. She told her husband they should divorce.

“I thought to myself, ‘How are we going to live like this, me in Mexico and my husband in the United States?’ ”

During her first three months in Mexico, Sanchez stayed with her three sons in the popular resort town of Los Cabos, where a brother worked as a physician. Her oldest child, Alex, was 5; Ryan, 3; and Brannon, 2 months.

But Paulsen wanted to be closer to his family, so he rented Sanchez a house in Tijuana. Though Paulsen contemplated moving to Tijuana, he said employment opportunities in Mexico were meager, and crossing the border every day for work would have been too difficult.

In Vista, Paulsen and the boys rent a home with Sanchez’s mother. Paulsen makes the 80-mile drive every weekend to the home in Tijuana.

Clearly, this policy is ridiculous and terrible for millions of Americans who have a family member who is an undocumented immigrant trying to contribute to this country.

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  • Gregor Sansa

    My plan was to get married, spend 3 years in the US, then 3 years in Guatemala, then decide where to live after that. She didn’t get a US visa for over 10 years, despite the fact I’m a citizen. We spent thousands of dollars in consular fees applying in that time, and lived in Guatemala and southern Mexico.

    When I tell this story, people invariably look puzzled. Isn’t a green card automatic for spouses of citizens? No. But it should be. I can understand some simple precautions to prevent the most flimsy of sham marriages. But we had a daughter (US citizen), a house, a car, dogs, and her government job in Guatemala and they wouldn’t give her a tourist visa because she was a risk of overstay. She had never been in the US or lied to a US official. Fuck that shit.

    • ThrottleJockey

      No other area of Federal policy regularly features nightmares like yours as immigration policy does.

      • aidian

        Nightmares like this emanate from the FBI and DHS on a pretty regular basis. Local law enforcement too. Actually reminds me of some of the stories I hear about Child Protective Services.

    • LeeEsq

      I am not agreeing with the consulate giving your wife and you an extraordinarily hard time but based on my past professional experience as an immigration lawyer, I can kind of understand the logic behind seeing your wife as a potential overstay. USCIS and the State Department really does not like seeing visas used for what they see as the wrong purpose. They probably thought that your plan was to have of your wife come in on a tourist visa and than for you to apply for an I-130/I-485 in the United States, which is what a lot of couples do because doing the I-130/I-485 in the states. To them the proper way to apply for your wife would be doing an I-130/National Visa Center process while she was in Guatemala and have her enter the United States on an immigrant than non-immigrant visa.

      • Gregor Sansa

        But we could have applied for a residency visa if that’s what we wanted. Again: kid, kid’s school, wife’s reasonably high-level government job (two levels down from president, managing dozens of people), house, dogs, car.

        I don’t care how reasonable their logic was. The end result, that there was no way for her to visit the US before deciding to live here, is insane and inhumane.

        • LeeEsq

          I never said that it was good logic or even reasonable. USCIS doesn’t believe that you have a right to try the United States out like you would a new city or state if you were an American system. Your either going to live her as an LPR and eventual citizen with your USC or LPR spouse or the USC spouse is going to immigrate.

          • Gregor Sansa

            I understand that you’re not actually defending the system, but you are normalizing it to some degree. I did emigrate, and got legal residency in Guatemala. Then when I wanted to come to a relative’s wedding or bring my daughter to visit her grandparents, my wife not only couldn’t come with us, she had to worry that some emergency would happen and she’d be stuck outside the country. Yes, that would also serve as “try before you buy”, but on a more fundamental level it’s about my rights to have a family, including my parents, my wife, and my children. My wife did in fact meet all the requirements for a tourist visa, it’s just that the US government decided it didn’t trust her. And why not? Because she’d been honest about her history of occasional marijuana use when we were applying for a fiance visa. (not fiancée, this is English). The three year ban for that had expired, but the fact that she’d been turned down in the past meant a presumption of guilt at every turn. Again, they refused to trust her because she’d been honest.

            • LeeEsq

              Seems par for the course for them.

            • vic rattlehead

              Come on man, what your family went through sucks and is unjust, but we have to be able to make descriptive comments without “normalizing” something.

  • DAS

    So what happens if the parents are deported and the kids are citizens? Do the kids end up in our already overburdened foster care system? Do they deport the kids and then the other country tries to deport the kids (and hence their parents with them) back because the kids are not citizens of that country?

    • rea

      Generally, the kids have dual citizenship.

    • Here’s one story. With a happy-ish ending, but still, the hardships that this woman endured were completely unnecessary.

    • LeeEsq

      It depends. Many stay with relatives who have status or who do not have status but haven’t fallen under the eye of USCIS yet. Others go back to their parent’s country of citizenship or go into the foster care system.

    • BobOso

      I had two pro-bono cases where this happened. Both times the parents got sent back and relatives cared for the children. It is a very tough emotional thing to watch a child be told that their mom or dad is being sent away.

      On a day to day level, there are all sorts of problems because these relatives are not adjudicated guardians from a family court. So there have been a few instances where aunt or uncle has had get school or medical authorizations back from the parents that are back in their country. We were able to get most of the school or medical authorizations processed before their removal- although removal happens very quickly, even hours after the hearing.

      This is one of the reasons I want to punch anyone who uses the phrase “Anchor Baby”.

  • Bitter Scribe

    I remember a co-worker who was born and lived about half her life in the U.S., then moved with her parents to Ireland and eventually married an Irishman. At the time Ireland was going through a bad recession and had high unemployment, so she moved back to the U.S. to work and brought her husband with her.

    Eventually. Did they ever make that poor guy jump through hoops. They did everything short of opening him up on an operating table to make sure he didn’t have any diseases. They had to live apart for something like six months before they got it all sorted out.

    I imagine for people with brown skin, in the current climate, that shit gets intensified exponentially.

  • Steve LaBonne

    Having dealt with some of this shit when I married the first time (my ex hails from Mumbai), and hearing plenty of awful stories as a member of a UU congregation that has immigration justice as one of its main social justice ministries, I can only say- fuck this shit.

  • ThrottleJockey

    The next president will have their work cut out for them as they try to mollify White Supremacists on the right and the Open Borders crowd on the left.

    • Cassiodorus

      Yes, because saying we shouldn’t deport people who are the spouses and parents of citizens is the same thing as saying “lift up the gates and let everyone in.”

      • Gregor Sansa

        I think “open borders” is a reasonable end goal; that is, that migrating should eventually be a matter of a finite amount of paperwork, for anybody except a minority of criminals or accused criminals.

        That would mean fundamental changes to how the world thinks about welfare, health care, education, taxes, and many other things. We can begin moving towards that world through small concrete steps, but even in my wildest dreams, I don’t think we’d be ready much before next century.

        I do not think that there is going to be any pressure on Clinton to throw open the gates on day one.

        • LeeEsq

          IMO you can’t have free trade without free movement of people and you can’t have free movement of people without free trade. Both are going to break down without the other. Few people on the Left or Right realize this.

          • Cassiodorus

            FWIW, I don’t disagree with you or Gregor. I’m just saying it’s not necessary to have those policy preferences to support an immigration system that’s more humane than the one we have today.

            • Gregor Sansa

              And I’m saying that even if you support open borders as an aspirational goal, it doesn’t mean you’ll be criticizing Clinton for not getting there on day 1. Which makes TJ’s statement even more ridiculous.

          • ThrottleJockey

            Why, Lee, do you need free movement of labor for free trade? Doesn’t free movement on labor simply lower wages? I don’t see how open borders wouldn’t just undermine incomes for working class and middle class folks.

            • LeeEsq

              For one thing, a lack of free movement of people in a free trade environment can have disastrous consequences for countries with not so good economies. The people can’t move where the jobs are. Another thing is that companies would want to be able to hire top talent. If there was a particular Hungarian furniture designer you needed to be competitive but you couldn’t hire him because he was not an American than you can get screwed in the market.

      • ThrottleJockey

        Stop pretending as if a non-trivial number of people on the left like Gregor above (and also, for instance, Murc) don’t favor Open Borders. I fully support a Path to Citizenship for obvious humanitarian reasons, but I don’t support Open Borders and I imagine a genuine fight about this on the left.

        • BobOso

          I can’t think of any mainstream party wanting an actual open border. That phrase is simply conservative speak for “we don’t want to talk at all about immigration policy.”

          • Cassiodorus

            Exactly. I agree with Gregor’s above comment about the border, but bringing up open borders in this particular context is just trying to shout down people who want a more humane policy.

            • Gregor Sansa

              Exactly. Even if it were true that, say, half of Democrats supported open borders to at least the extent I do (which is far from the case), TJ’s bothsiderism would be a rhetorical low blow.

              • ThrottleJockey

                What bothsiderism??? That’s a real non-sequitur. I’m saying that a substantial segment of commenters here at LGM favor open borders. And you don’t have to get to half of voters to have a real fight about something. Beyond the humane reasons that I might favor Obama’s policy, this leans toward the open borders strategy, no? Its largely a open borders mindset which appears to inform Loomis’ criticism of Obama’s immigration policy.

                • Gregor Sansa

                  as they try to mollify White Supremacists on the right and the Open Borders crowd on the left

                  This is classic bothsiderism. Both sides will criticize Clinton unreasonably, but she’ll be here with me and the sane people in the middle.

                • twbb

                  I don’t think he’s drawing anything near a moral equivalency between white supremacists and open borders advocates.

                • aidian

                  “Both sides will criticize Clinton unreasonably, but she’ll be here with me and the sane people in the middle.”

                  HRC’s stated position is that no one currently here illegally gets deported (I think there’s a caveat about – unless they commit serious crime).

                  That’s not quite ‘open borders,’ though it’s arguably a move in that direction, but it’s pretty far from being a position one can characterize as being a middle ground. It’s a fairly extreme position.

          • ThrottleJockey

            Which is not to say that a not insignificant number of liberals favor open borders…Hell I *used* to think that open borders supporters were entirely a figment of Bill O’Reilly’s imagination. I was surprised when I started following LGM how many liberals actually supported such a policy…I was even more surprised when my best friend did, lol!

          • twbb

            I don’t think “there are a lot of people on the left who favor open borders” and “no mainstream party support open borders” are not mutually exclusive.

            TJ is right; there are many people on the left both in the LGM commentariat and outside it who consider open borders a moral imperative. Personally I am against them, mostly because I agree with Krugman that you can’t have open borders and a strong social safety net.

            Whatever your position on it, however, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to characterize it as a position held by a lot of people on the left.

      • BobOso

        @Cassiodorus-Thank you.

  • LeeEsq

    For those interested in the actual law/system involved. Here it is.

    When a United States citizen or LPR applies for an alien-spouse to receive a green card in the United States, two applications are involved. The first is an I-130, the relative visa application, and the second is the I-485, which is to adjust status to lawful permanent residence from whatever the previous status was.

    Generally, USCIS will only approve an I-485 in the United States if the alien is either admitted or paroled into the United States or is considered an arriving alien. This roughly means that the US government knows when an alien entered the United States at an official point of entry because they were either admitted with a valid visa or they attempted to go through customs without a valid visa or other entry document or even that they used a fake passport to enter the United States but there is a record of this.

    Aliens like Sanchez are considered EWI, entered without inspection. USCIS may not give them green cards in the United States even if the I-130 is approved except if certain rare circumstances apply. Sanchez and other aliens who are EWI must generally go back to their home country and go through the consular process.

    The problem with this is that the 3 or 10 year ban for unlawful presence in the United States kicks in. There is a waiver form, I-601, but you need to prove that it would be an extreme hardship on the petitioning relative in order to get around the ban. The process took around six to ten months at least in the past.

    In 2013, USCIS created the I-601A waiver. This allows for an alien with unlawful presence to apply for a waiver while in the United States rather than going back to their country of citizenship and applying for a waiver there. They still have to go back to get back in as an LPR though.

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