Loving Couples Forced to Make Impossible Choices

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By Laura Vazquez, Senior Immigration Legislative Analyst, NCLR 

In this week’s edition of “Hanging in the Balance,” we meet a young couple whose dreams of living happily ever after were turned upside down because of the United States’ dysfunctional immigration laws.

As reported by Fusion, Rachel Custodio and her husband Paulo are just one of more than one million mixed-status couples where one is a citizen or permanent resident and one is an aspiring American. If one faces deportation, his or her significant other must face the impossible choice our current immigration system forces upon thousands of families: should the permanent resident leave the United States and follow his or her deported spouse, or stay behind and attempt to maintain a relationship from half a world away?

Advocacy Central Need Action1-1Four years ago, Rachel, a U.S. citizen, packed up her life in Boston and took a one-way flight to Brazil. She couldn’t speak Portuguese. She wasn’t traveling to a new job. As so many other husbands and wives have done, Rachel was leaving the United States for the first time to be with her deported husband.

Rachel and Paulo met in Boston back in 2005 and were married by 2009. She knew that Paulo lacked immigration status since he had entered the country by crossing from Mexico into Texas in 2002. So, shortly after marrying, the newlyweds hired a lawyer to get Paulo right with the law.

One day, as the couple was going through their I-130 interview at a federal office in Boston, their world began to crumble. There in the interview room, Rachael and Paulo learned that Paulo had an outstanding deportation order. He had no criminal record, but somewhere along the line—as he sought a driver’s license or another document that he needed for his everyday life—a judge had served Paolo deportation orders, orders that he never received. After giving the few possessions he was holding to his wife, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer took Paulo away to a detention center.

Though Rachel gathered friends, family, and Paulo’s coworkers to ask immigration officials to grant Paolo released supervision, the authorities deemed him ineligible for parole. After two difficult months in a detention center, Paolo was deported to Brazil.

Immigration FamiliesRachel worried about the effect separation would have on their marriage. She chose to move to Brazil and remains there today, despite her continued struggles with learning Portuguese, separation from her parents, and occasional feelings of isolation in her new home.

As a country, we have a commitment to strengthening families, and in the absence of action from Congress, the president has no choice but to act to keep families together. President Obama has the legitimate authority to fix elements of the outdated immigration system. He should provide relief from deportation to those who have strong ties to our country and are woven into our communities.

Too many American citizens are having their families torn apart without hope for a better future.

Hanging in the Balance: Stories of Aspiring Americans

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By Laura Vazquez, Senior Immigration Legislative Analyst, NCLR

In this blog series, we will lift up the stories of individuals who would benefit from administrative action to address the suffering caused by increases in detention and deportation. The individuals are representative of millions across the country who would benefit from Congress providing a permanent solution to fix our immigration laws but in the meantime need the president to act.

AllInRally3Republican leadership in the House of Representatives has squandered the best opportunity in years to provide a solution to our broken immigration system. Instead of providing a solution that promotes family unity, creates new jobs, and reduces the deficit—all stated interests of the GOP leadership—they have turned their backs on their colleagues who were pushing for a lasting solution, as well as the American public, which supports immigration reform. Doing nothing, however, is not an option. The failure of the House GOP to act reaffirms the need for President Obama to act instead.

When I think about who the GOP has failed, I think of the Maldonado family. The consequences of inaction are not abstract for them, and the failure does not just impact the Maldonados. It affects the community that has rallied around them, including an amazing advocate who is known as the guardian angel for immigrants in Ohio.

I first learned of the Maldonado family in 2011 when Manuela and her sister, Rosa, were in deportation proceedings and faced the heart-wrenching struggle of deciding what to do with Manuela’s sons, who are U.S. citizens. Her children need their mother and aunt, who has been a caretaker for the boys ever since Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) took Manuela’s husband from their home and deported him.

The Maldonados had lived quiet, productive lives in Ohio for nearly 10 years, yet a 2007 immigration raid changed their lives forever. ICE officers entered their home looking for someone else, but upon learning that the parents and aunt of the Maldonado boys were undocumented, they put them in deportation proceedings. Tens of thousands of dollars in lawyers’ fees later, Manuela’s husband was deported to Mexico, and she and her sister faced the same fate. Due to the tenacity of advocates in the community, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) granted Manuela and Rosa an exercise of prosecutorial discretion since they are not a priority for removal—they are productive members of their community, raising children who were born here.

HouseImmigrationBill_picI met one of the boys when he came to the NCLR National Latino Advocacy Days. He talked to members of Congress and the Obama administration about how his family lives with the daily fear of being separated. The separation of his father has already been too much for the family to handle. Manuela’s husband attempted to reenter the U.S. this year to be reunited with his children and provide for them. Instead of looking at the totality of circumstances—a father of U.S. citizen children who had lived in the U.S. for nearly 10 years without criminal record—DHS saw a “recent border crosser,” to use their terms, and sent him back to Mexico as a priority deportation.

Unfortunately, the Maldonados’ story is not uncommon. Too many children and families live in fear of losing their loved ones because of our broken immigration system.

The administration must act to provide commonsense relief to individuals who have longstanding ties to our country and are not a threat to national security.