Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Geography of the Heart

The Geography of the Heart
How US immigration law divides families
By Stephan Clark

One Sunday almost four years ago, Thomas Carson, a 50-year old electrical engineer with corporate commendations from Nabisco and General Electric, parked his KIA Sportsman near the US-Mexico border and waited.

It was after dark in Las Milpas, once the largest colonia – or border settlement – in South Texas. Since being absorbed by the City of Pharr to the north in the late-eighties, this community of low- and very low-income Hispanics had almost doubled in size, reaching a population of 17,000. It had also received the type of things most Americans believe lacking in only the third world: running water and electricity, sewer service and paved roads. With such improvements, the community no longer laid claim to the state’s highest incidence of tuberculosis, Hepatitis A and leprosy, and it had even attracted the development of a Jack in the Box.

But one thing about Las Milpas remained unchanged in July 2003: its close proximity to the border. It was that which brought people like Carson here, just as the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA) had brought business to the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge, then not quite ten years old.

Carson parked near the intersection of Highway 281 and East Dicker Road. Beside him in his SUV was his son, 11-month-old Thomas Alexander, secure in his baby-seat. Further south was the boy’s mother, Carson’s girlfriend of five years, one Lucia Ramirez Hernandez. This night, she wouldn’t be traveling over Pharr’s celebrated bridge.

Hernandez had attempted that crossing in Jan. 1999, just a few months before a fire at a maquiladora in Reynosa would send Carson south of the border on work. Her crime that day was simple: after being stopped in a car with Texas plates, she made a false claim of U.S. citizenship.

Since 1996, when Congress last overhauled immigration law, this act has drawn a punishment as severe – a lifetime ban on entering the United States – as it is permanent. Hernandez cannot appeal or seek a waiver. She is no different than the terrorists, communists and practicing polygamists also singled out by law. She has no means of appeal.

“It wouldn’t matter if someone had a pistol to your side and you drove up to the border crossing and said, ‘I’m a US citizen,’” said Carson. “That’s it. You’re inadmissible. You don’t have a case.”

And so that night four years ago, while Carson and Thomas Alexander waited in the dark, Hernandez stepped into the river that runs along the Texas border between the Gulf of Mexico and El Paso. It is a tributary President Bush knows well. Going back to his days as Governor of Texas, he has frequently said family values do not end at the Rio Grande.

After emerging on the other side, Hernandez got into a car and continued toward her family. Carson spotted her passing the little strip plaza where they’d agreed to meet. He followed her to an area home, where Hernandez changed clothes and got into Carson’s SUV. The three then drove north – father, son and mother – toward the secondary inspection point at Falfurrias.

Eight months previous, Carson, a US Navy veteran, had imagined a reunion of another sort, petitioning for an immigrant’s visa on behalf of Hernandez and her two children from a previous relationship. But the false claim of U.S. citizenship derailed that effort, and so the descendant of five American veterans of five different foreign wars had been left with only what he’d been taught in the military: if you are captured, you must try to escape.

“We were desperate,” he said. “I don’t know what else to tell you.“

Parts 2-8 of this story can be purchased at Amazon.


Anonymous said...

Great article! Looking forward to reading all 8 parts.

Red October

Stephan said...

Thanks for reading, Red. Hope you're doing well. Where are you these days anyway? Colorado?

Stephan said...

Part 5

An update from Brenda received last week:

"About 3 months ago, USCIS AAO finally after 5 and a half years acknowledged in the decision on our appeal that there was never any evidence to support the accusations against my husband and I. We did not lie, we have a valid marriage and he is not inadmissible. We are now (the last 2 months) waiting on our 10th security clearance, because 9 wasn't enough. I hope that sometime this year, they might issue my husband's visa, about 5 years late."

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VJ said...

Great article. Thank you... I work for an Immigration Lawyer and I deal with the unfairness of the USCIS every day... I have a Naturalized US Citizen client, who has stage 4 breast cancer... She does not have much longer left for her, but USCIS does not approve for Visas for her 2 children to come and spend what-ever time she has left with her... It kills me that I cannot help...

WittyName32 said...

VJ, Sorry to hear that. Just awful. My regards to your client -- and you for trying to find a way for her. I wish her family the best.