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Home For The Holidays

Home For The Holidays

"I recently returned from a family vacation where I was able to spend Thanksgiving with my parents and most of my extended family. As I sat around the dinner table basking in the warmth of our Thanksgiving Day feast I was able to inventory how blessed I was to be with family. In this tranquil and peaceful setting my thoughts were interrupted by a disheartening memory that occurred during my service as an immigration officer a few years ago."

I recently returned from a family vacation where I was able to spend Thanksgiving with my parents and most of my extended family. My children were able to spend time with their cousins while building memories that will last a lifetime. As I sat around the dinner table basking in the warmth of our Thanksgiving Day feast I was able to inventory how blessed I was to be with family. In this tranquil and peaceful setting my thoughts were interrupted by a disheartening memory that occurred during my service as an immigration officer a few years ago.

One holiday season at the Immigration Service I was given the assignment to act as the duty officer with the specific assignment to adjudicate applicant requests to travel, also known as advance paroles. One particular day a young Pinay applied for permission to travel so she could return to the Philippines in time for the holidays. While reviewing her application I discovered that she did not qualify to travel as a result of her extended unlawful presence, an unfortunate but common scenario.  I was left with the unenviable task of having to inform her of the same.

I called her name and as she approached the counter it was clear from her expression that she held hope for the best.  I explained to her that under current U.S. law if an alien was present in the United States for more than one year before applying for lawful permanent residency they would be ineligible to enter the U.S. for up to 10 years.

Additionally, I informed her that while her immediate goal of seeing relatives and friends in the Philippines might be fulfilled by this trip she would be barred from returning to the United States and seeing her U.S. family. A risk that she clearly was not prepared to make.

As tears rolled down her face she proceeded to first thank me for my concern but that I should know that this was an emergency and “surely they (INS) make exceptions for emergencies.” Hoping to disassociate myself from the denial of her request and hoping that she would not take what I had to say personal, I went on to explain that I was unable to make exceptions to this rule and that I did not write the law but was obligated to enforce it.

This did not stop her from hoping that an officer of the INS might somehow have compassion on her and allow her just one trip to the Philippines. She continued her plea by stating, “ you see sir, my father is extremely ill from cancer and we know that this will be his last Christmas. I must be home with him, as he and my elderly mother need me at home. I just need a few weeks with him and I promise I will come back.”  Her tears were clearly visible now and I could see that she was searching for some form of compassion from me.

Caught up in the moment I felt her pain and wished that there were something that I could do for her but the law was clear. Again I told her that my hands were tied and there was nothing I could do. She look to the floor for a moment and then looking me in the eyes said, “you have now forced me to choose between a dying father or a better life for my children.” With this statement she walked away.

{mosbanner right}As I finished the flashback of this heart wrenching moment and as the turkey was brought out for my large family to begin the ritual feast, I wondered what ever happened to that lady and what choice did she ultimately make?

This story is not unique. As the advance parole officer I witnessed many individuals who left the INS with similar choices to make. I was left to wonder, why didn’t they take care of their situation sooner? Why didn’t they seek legal advice to show them how to make their stay here legal and permanent? Maybe they had a bad experience with an attorney, maybe they were afraid of the fees or are just unsure of how to begin. Regardless, another holiday season will come and go and many are no closer to getting home then from the previous year.

Let this holiday season be the time you decide to do something about your immigration status. Consult with an immigration attorney and see if there is something that can be done to legalize your status. Do it now and you may be able to avoid the kind of decision that this lady had to make on a holiday not too long ago.

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©Kelly S. O’Reilly