Traducción al español
SAN JOSE – Immigration laws don’t just affect the undocumented; they also affect the thousands of U.S. citizens that fall in love with, marry, and raise a family with immigrants. In the immigration marches held earlier this year, the demonstrators included many U.S. citizens who faced their own difficulties: they’d fallen in love with people without concern for their legal status – and now their families were suffering the consequences.
David Guard participated in the May 1 “mega march,” carrying a sign that read, "Bring my family home! Eliminate the 10-year-ban!"
Guard says he fell in love with a Mexican woman who worked at his company. Shortly after beginning their relationship, they had their first child. They then decided to marry. Karina, his wife-to-be, returned to Mexico to organize their wedding. While she was out of the country, the young couple began the immigration process, but Karina was prohibited from entering this country for a period of 10 years. That's when the family's journey began. Guard, who works for CISCO Systems, has a flexible schedule that allows him to visit his family in Mexico.
“We have asked our Congressmen to help us - not only us, but the thousands of couples who have been affected by this problem,” says Guard. “The office of immigration tries to justify itself by saying it does this for national security,” he continues. “What security are they giving this country if they treat citizens like me unfairly? My wife is not a terrorist and immigration laws are destroying the families of their own citizens,” he adds emphatically.
In 1984, Brenda Friedrich married Ismael Sanfaz, a Bolivian citizen. Together they had a daughter who is now 17 years old. Sanfaz obtained legal residency before they got divorced in 1996. Years later, they reconciled and remarried. By this time, Sanfaz had lost his green card and had to reapply for one. One year later, immigration authorities told them that their marriage was not valid and Sanfaz was deported with instructions that he could not re-enter the United States. Sanfaz has not seen his family since.
Since her husband was deported, Friedrich says, she has had to support herself, her parents, her daughter and her sister.
“I’ve spent thousands of dollars and have been in this process for five years and we can’t find a solution,” says Friedrich, who lives in the Northern California city of Campbell. “We’ve begun the (immigration) process again, and now they say we have to wait for our daughter to turn 18 so she can apply to bring him back (to the United States),” she adds.
“The immigration offices are a big secret, and you never know what they are going to do or say,” she says. “They are inefficient and unjust towards many families that are waiting for some good news.”
When you fall in love, you don’t ask your partner for his or her papers. This was the case with Julissa Chavez, a U.S. citizen, and her Mexican husband Alejandro Garcia. The couple fell in love and decided to get married in 2004. Chavez, who is bilingual, loves her job: she teaches children with special needs in San Francisco. Her skills have assured her a position in her workplace for years to come. This September, her husband had to go to the Mexican border city of Juarez to renew his immigration status. He was unable to re-enter the country and has remained in Mexico since then, leaving Chavez to take care of their three-year-old daughter.
Chavez says immigration laws separate families and are discriminatory. “With the ‘terrorism’ excuse, it is easy to blame Latinos,” she says. “The government is acting out of paranoia in this situation,” she adds.
The non-profit national organization American Families United is one of the groups that is helping U.S. citizens married to undocumented immigrants. The organization is now in talks with congressmen and assemblymen to help resolve this issue that affects children, husbands and wives.
"The problem of families being separated by our immigration laws is very tragic,” says immigration lawyer Christopher Kerosky. “Our country's immigration policies always caused some examples of family separation, but the situation has gotten much worse in the last 10 years due to several changes in the immigration laws intended to discourage illegal immigration.”
One of Kerosky’s clients is married to an American citizen and has two children, both U.S. citizens. The family was forced to move to Asia and live there for 10 years because the woman overstayed her visa. “The situation has ripped apart their family, caused them to lose their careers here and kept their parents in the U.S. from seeing their grandchildren,” says Kerosky. “There are thousands of such cases. What needs to happen is some sensible reform of those punitive rules that keep families apart. Maybe now with the new Congress,” he adds, “there is some hope that this will happen.”