It isn’t only the holiday that is celebrated, the sweets that are eaten, the gifts that are given, or the resolutions that are made that defines this time of year; it is also family. Regardless of your religion, your nation of origin, or your profession, our common purpose this time of year is togetherness. Yet there are so many, no matter how strong their resolve, who are unable to realize that seemingly simple goal. Instead, countless families are kept apart by an immigration system that is bursting with backlogs, unreasonably punitive, and often marred by bureaucratic incompetence.
Whether waiting in the endless line for a visa to become available, waiting for a ten year bar to re-entry to be lifted, or simply waiting for an immigration agency to notice their file and process their application, thousands and thousands of families remain separated this holiday season. Perhaps even more troubling, countless other families face the threat of imminent separation due to their inability to regularize their status while present in the United States, even if married to a U.S. citizen and a parent to U.S. citizen children.
For a country that lauds “family values,” with politicians endlessly citing family priorities and an immigration system ostensibly built on a foundation of “family unity,” we have to do better, we must do better. We must comprehensively reform our system so that it unites families, rather than keeping them and often tearing them apart. A seemingly daunting task, fighting for togetherness is simpler than it seems. Our system needs more family-based immigrant visa numbers. Family members of U.S. citizens need a vehicle for regularizing their status while present in the U.S. We need to practice forgiveness for past mistakes – rather than perpetual punishment – for those with U.S. citizen family members.
Until we accomplish family togetherness, we at Benach Ragland will continue fighting for families – families like our clients from Bangladesh, who were separated for over five years because of a misunderstanding at a consular interview and a mistake that the consul repeatedly refused to correct. A naturalized U.S. citizen husband petitioned for his wife and young son to bring them to the United States, excited to build a life together in the country that he now called home. Yet, the consulate refused to issue the wife her visa, alleging that she had made a misrepresentation. This alleged misrepresentation was neither material to the application nor was it a misrepresentation at all – what she had said to the consul was true. However, the consul refused to correct the error.
The family came to us and we prepared and filed an application for a waiver of inadmissibility on her behalf, demonstrating that if she was kept apart from her U.S. citizen husband, he would continue to suffer from depression and anxiety. He would continue living in near-poverty while trying to support two households in two different countries on the salary of a fast-food restaurant manager. When our client’s waiver finally was granted, our perseverance and resolve were given the ultimate reward: his family is spending these holidays together in their adopted nation, their home.
We will keep fighting for families like our Ethiopian asylee-now-U.S.-citizen, who was separated from his Canadian wife and three children for over eight years because his wife was refused re-admission to the United States after a short trip abroad. After suffering persecution in Ethiopia and fleeing in fear for his life, our client was granted asylum and safety in the U.S., where he met the woman of his dreams, a Canadian citizen, who had immigrated to Canada as a refugee from Ethiopia. They started a family together in the United States and began building a bright future for their U.S. citizen children. Yet, when our client traveled to Canada for a short trip, she was refused re-admission due to a prior act of fraud she had committed. While she regretted that act before, her regret deepened when she realized that it would lead to an eight-year separation and the near collapse of her family unit. The difficulty of obtaining a waiver for a Canadian citizen, showing extreme hardship and an inability for the family to relocate to Canada, may have turned some advocates away.
Not Benach Ragland. We saw the pain that this young family was suffering due to their separation and wanted to fight on their behalf. We prepared and filed an application for a waiver of inadmissibility, showing the government that without his wife and children with him in the U.S., our U.S. citizen client would continue to suffer. As a refugee who had to flee his home in fear for his life and who had finally been freed from “statelessness” by a grant of U.S. citizenship, to attempt to resettle in Canada would be psychologically and emotionally devastating. Yet, without his family in the U.S., he also faced extreme psychological and financial hardship, trying to bond with his very young children and build upon his marriage from afar, while supporting two households on the salary of a parking garage attendant. After over eight years of holidays apart, this family gets to spend this one together.
As we reflect on 2012 and hope for 2013, we remember these families, as well as all of those families who remain separated, longing to achieve their “togetherness” in 2013. We at Benach Ragland hope that 2013 brings common sense immigration reform, buttressed by the pillar of family unity. Until then, our resolution is to continue advocating for families and never, never stop fighting for togetherness.