Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Immigration laws split mixed-legal-status families

OVERLAND PARK, KAN. -- When Kecia Sales and Juan Marquez were married,they were like scores of other couples: very much in love with plans tolive together for the rest of their lives.

But it wasn't to be.After their December 2004 marriage, he told her he had been livingillegally in the U.S. since 1999. After leaving Mexico, Marquez hadmade his way to her hometown of Kansas City, Kan., where they met andmarried, and she took his name.

They became one of an estimated 2 million mixed families, where atleast one member is a citizen or lawfully living in the country and theother isn't. The vast majority of those families, according to the PewHispanic Center, involve an illegal parent and legal children — yetanother shade of this country's ongoing immigration conundrum.

That he's among 12 million illegal immigrants didn't change Sales' lovefor Marquez. They lived in her hometown and both worked to make endsmeet."It didn't bother me," she said. "It doesn't make him any worse of aperson."But Marquez, 26, and his wife, 40, finally decided he should return toMexico and begin the long, uphill fight to re-enter the countrylegally.

Broad effectsMarquez's decision came as Kansas and some 40 other states try to passlegislation this year dealing with illegal immigrants because Congresshas failed to act. It's a move Hispanic advocates say affects more thanillegal immigrants."It impacts also documented immigrants because families tend to be of amixed status. Hurting one individual hurts the entire family. Itcreates an unwelcoming atmosphere to all immigrants, whether legal ornot," said David Ferreira of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

El Centro Inc., a Hispanic advocacy group in the Kansas City area, saidits 2006 survey showed 63 percent of Hispanics questioned said theylived in some type of mixed family status.

Why Juan Marquez came to the United States is a familiar tale. Hewanted a better life for himself and his family, which includes twoyounger brothers, his mother and disabled father back in Hidalgo state.

"They have no money for food. My parents don't work," he said. "Iwanted to do whatever I have to do to put food on the table for myfamily."He said each week he sent $100 to his family back in Mexico — apractice known as "remittances," which the Inter-American DevelopmentBank says accounted for some $23 billion sent to Mexico in 2006.

The couple talked about the decision for him to return to Mexico in theoffice of their immigration attorney, Mira Mdivani, shortly beforeMarquez left last month.

"You don't feel safe in the streets. You don't feel safe anywherebecause of a lot of things going on right now," he said. "The policepull you over for no reason."I want to be free, to go wherever I want to go and not be scared. Inthe long run, it will be worth it. We can have a better life and wewon't be scared anymore," Marquez said.When he was in the U.S., he worked at construction jobs, doingeverything from picking up trash to cleaning sewers and provided abouttwo-thirds of the household income.

Kecia Marquez said she worried daily that her husband would be arrestedat work by immigration agents, so much so that she called him three orfour times a day to check on him.Her worries continue about whether he will be allowed back in theUnited States."It's stressful, very stressful, because I don't know if he's comingback. It's just that I'm sure we're doing the right thing. This is myhome, and I want it to be here with my husband," she said as bothteared up.

Waiver request deniedMdivani said because Juan Marquez entered the country illegally andstayed more than a year, the law bars him from coming back for 10years, unless the government approves a waiver request from his wife.

She said the waiver request was denied March 13 by the U.S. Consulatein Juarez, Mexico, but it agreed to give Kecia Marquez 30 days tosubmit new evidence of hardship. Then it could take up to a year for adecision about whether he can return.

"The law is extremely unforgiving," Mdivani said. "But I think Keciahas a compelling case. She takes care of a disabled sister and uncle.She won't have the opportunity for any kind of decent job there and shewill lose the house."She also won't be getting much sympathy from those pushing tougherimmigration legislation."I have compassion for them, but I'm also concerned about Kansascitizens. I'm responsible to the citizens to protect them," saidRepublican state Sen. Peggy Palmer, who is pushing this year forstronger laws to discourage illegal immigration in Kansas.

Possible move to MexicoKecia Marquez has her own feelings about what legislators are trying todo."It's making it hard for everyone. It's like we're being punished justbecause my husband is Hispanic," she said.Not so, says Kris Kobach, state GOP chairman, who helped draft thelegislation."It's a reflection of the fact that we're a nation that respects therule of law," he said. "There are millions of people waiting patientlyin line to get in and we shouldn't forget they are playing by the ruleswhen talking about those coming here illegally."If she can't get the waiver approved, Kecia Marquez says she will moveto Mexico."That's what I'll have to do. That's my husband. I have to go where hegoes," she said. "I love him, I can't forget about him."

Brought to you by the Houston Chronicle

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