Couples split by border hope reform brings relief
EL PASO, Texas (AP) — As Edgar Falcon and Maricruz Valtierra exchanged vows, they attracted the attention of hundreds of morning commuters Tuesday at the Santa Fe border bridge in El Paso, craning their necks to see the couple standing on the dividing line between the U.S. and Mexico.
Falcon, a U.S. citizen, now faces the choice of staying in Texas and living apart from his wife, a Mexico citizen, or relocating to Ciudad Juarez, a city with about 1,500 murders last year.
Falcon says Valtierra can’t enter the U.S. because when she was 16 years old, her sister tried to bring her to the United States using someone else’s birth certificate. They didn’t find out Valtierra had been declared inadmissible until they were applying for her visa as a fiancee of a U.S. citizen.
“The only option I have is exile, to choose between the love of my wife and the love for my country,” Falcon said.
Falcon, like others who married or are closely related to people who have a lifetime ban from the United States, hopes legislation to be introduced by Texas freshman U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke will provide relief from their situation.
The bill is aimed at providing discretionary authority to judges and Department of Homeland Security officials when the person who is in deportation, ineligibility or inadmissibility proceedings is an immediate family member of a U.S. citizen.
O’Rourke, a Democrat, said he will introduce it once Congress returns Sept. 9.
The bill also would remove the requirement that U.S. citizens have to demonstrate “extreme hardship” in order to apply for a waiver for their relative or spouse. Therefore, if they can demonstrate the removal or inadmissibility would create a hardship for the U.S. citizen, the judge or DHS official would have to rule in favor of the family.
And the bill would let people who have been deemed inadmissible for life, like Valtierra, to ask for a waiver.
It used to be that the immigration officer or the judge would have the authority to grant those exemptions, but over the years, that discretion has been taken away, said Tony Payan, director of the Mexico Center at Rice University’s Baker Institute of Public Policy.
“Now all they can do is look at the list of inadmissible offenses and tell you you are not admissible,” Payan said.
Randall Emery, president of American Families United, an immigration reform organization that’s been lobbying for the law to change since 2006, compares it to “going to a death penalty trial with traffic court rules,” saying judges “have their hands tied.”
After the cross-border wedding, O’Rourke told Falcon, “We will work on getting co-sponsorship next week.”
“We need to support their commitment and the way they will strengthen our communities through their marriage,” O’Rourke said.
For Emily Cruz, a U.S. citizen married to a man who has a lifetime entry ban and won’t be eligible to ask for a waiver for seven more years, the choice was clear. She moved to Ciudad Juarez in 2010, at the height of the city’s drug-related violence, and commutes every day to El Paso.
But the financial toll of living away from the U.S. is hard on her family, especially because her husband only earns 550 pesos ($41) a week at a factory.
“We have a life, bills, student loans to pay in the U.S., and on only one U.S. income and 550 pesos a week, it’s difficult,” she said.