Saturday, February 14, 2009

A love separated by the law, and the U.S.-Mexican border

A sad Valentine's Day story. -Angela

A love separated by the law, and the U.S.-Mexican border
Torturous waiting » SLC man yearns for the government to clear his undocumented wife to move here.

By Jennifer W. Sanchez
The Salt Lake Tribune

Salt Lake Tribune
Posted:02/13/2009 04:11:01 PM MST
Marc Carpenter bought his wife their first house to start their life together, but she's only seen it in photos.
After almost two years of marriage and living together, Ignacia, Marc's undocumented, Mexican-born wife, was denied a visa to legally live in the United States.
The Carpenters had to separate at the U.S.-Mexico border -- Ignacia moved to her village in Mexico and Marc returned to Utah in hopes seeing his wife in Salt Lake City within three months.
It's been a year and two days.
For Marc, "It feels like forever."
When he married "Iggy," he figured since he was a U.S. citizen, she would get legal status here.
He was wrong. She was in the country illegally when they met, and that means she has to stay in Mexico to gain permission to legally enter. That could take 10 years.
Marc, 37, says he wants Ignacia with him so they can pick out the paint and furniture for their house. The couple had vowed to learn how to snowboard this winter, but he doesn't want to do it alone. Same with Utah Jazz games or movies.
"Right now, my life is on hold," he says. "I don't want to do anything on my own."
Ignacia, 26, is living with her parents on their ranch in the central Mexican state of Hidalgo. When it comes to Marc, she longs for the little things most. She misses watching TV, taking impromptu road trips and making chicken parmesan for dinner. Without him, she's lonely.
"I have my family, but it's not the same," she says during a recent phone interview.
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Getting through the system » The couple's situation is typical among citizens and legal residents who marry undocumented immigrants, said immigration lawyer Barbara Szweda.
The reason: By law, undocumented immigrants who have lived in the country for more than a year, marry a U.S. citizen and apply for legal status must return to their home country for 10 years, Szweda said.
Spouses seeking to return to the U.S. can apply for hardship waivers to lift the 10-year bar. Szweda described two cases where waivers were granted: A wife requiring surgery needed her husband; a mother with a critically ill child depended on the father's support.
Paradoxically, U.S. citizens who marry undocumented immigrants who came here legally, but who have expired visas, do not have to return to their homelands when they re-apply for legal status, Szweda said.
In 2007, about 274,000 husbands and wives married to U.S. citizens were able to get legal status . They made up 26 percent of the 1 million immigrants who received legal permanent residency, according to U.S. Department of Homeland Security immigration statistics.
Some immigration lawyers suggest that people who entered the U.S. illegally and have been here more than a year reconsider applying for proper documentation and wait for possible federal immigration reform, Szweda said.
"It's very difficult right now," she said.
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A whirlwind romance : After growing up in New York City and later living in Florida, Marc moved to Utah in February 2005. He's been working as a Burger King training manager since then.
Ignacia moved from Mexico to Utah in 2002 to be with her two brothers. She worked at an Italian restaurant and paid for college classes to learn English.
In August 2005, introduced by mutual friends, the two met at a birthday party in Salt Lake City.
Marc says he immediately fell for Ignacia's "incredible smile."
Eventually, they started going to dinner and movies and talking on the phone for hours.
They shared their first kiss April 2 at a Chili's Grill & Bar. Six days later, they were married.
Their friends and relatives thought they were crazy.
Marc says his conservative parents told him he was "stupid and crazy for marrying an illegal." But since then, he says, they learned more about immigration problems and have accepted their daughter-in-law into the family.
Ignacia says she didn't tell her parents until after the wedding, which wasn't anything fancy. She wore an old brown skirt and blouse to the ceremony.
"It was so fast," she says. "But I was happy."
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Denied, denied and waiting » About three weeks later, the newlyweds paid an attorney $4,000 to apply for legal status for Ignacia. They said they knew the paperwork would take time, but they didn't know the problems they were getting into.
And they started looking for a house.
In February 2008, the couple had to go to the U.S. consulate in Juarez, Mexico, for Ignacia's first appointment for a visa. She was denied but returned for a second appointment for a hardship waiver a few days later, only to be denied again.
The couple's attorney said Ignacia would be back in Utah within three months.
She's still in Mexico, and no one knows for how long.
Marc and Ignacia are waiting for a response to the appeal they filed on Ignacia's hardship waiver. Marc says that, according to Department of Homeland Security estimates, an answer could come as early as next month.
"Just because she wasn't lucky enough to be born here, we have to go through all this," he says. "We're trying to do things the right way, but the government doesn't help you."
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Lives on hold » Within the past year, Marc has visited Ignacia in Mexico seven times. When he's gone, she's frustrated because there's nothing for her to do but help around the house.
"The days go so long for me," she says. "But when he comes, the days go so fast for me."
Ignacia wonders if it was a mistake to apply for legal status. Maybe she should have stayed as one of about 100,000 undocumented immigrants in Utah.
Marc says he grateful that his bosses have been flexible with him, but he's run out of vacation days and money.
Marc says he makes about $42,000 a year, sends Ignacia about $400 a month and pays the mortgage and bills. And he has racked up a $12,000 credit-card bill, mostly for travel to Mexico.
He recently started selling his plasma for $60 a week to make some extra cash.
"I'm broke," he says.
For now, they wait.
Marc and Ignacia spend hours a day talking on their cell-phone walkie-talkies. They watch "American Idol" and read the same books, such as the fantasy-romance novel New Moon , so they can talk about them. And they try not to dwell on the roughly 1,700 miles between them.
The worst part: the future is unknown.
"Not knowing is really hard," Marc says. "You have no idea what's going to happen with your life."
jsanchez@sltrib.com

Did you know?

Here are the four main ways to immigrate into the U.S.

Family » Applying for a visa through a relative (including spouses) who is a citizen or a legal resident.

Employment » Many visas are for professionals who have special skills and are under-represented in the United States.

Asylum » It's a form of protection for people who are fearful of living in their native country.

Lottery: » A Diversity Lottery of 55,000 visas is available for people who live in countries that are under-represented in the U.S.; millions and millions apply.

Source: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and immigration attorney Barbara Szweda

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