Immigration policy separates family

Immigration policy separates family

CREATED Feb 9, 2012

Reporter: Steve Nuñez

HERMOSILLO, SONORA, MX (KGUN9-TV) - It's a common misconception in the immigration debate that if a foreign national marries a U.S. Citizen that person can immediately come here to live. But that is not always true. As one couple man can tell you, in some cases, immigration law rips apart families.

For Mayra, the last name Holmes became her legal name after she married her husband Mike in Tucson.

But today, the look of sadness in her eyes tells a story of a broken heart and a shattered dream.
"Well it's very difficult for me to be by myself with my daughter," said Mayra.

Mayra went from being a legal visitor from Mexico to one who is no longer allowed into the United States.

"When I was trying to cross the border, they took my Visa," explained Mayra.
Now, Mayra lives in Hermosillo, Sonora along with her daughter Elani. The 5-year old, born a U.S. Citizen, is also separated from her American-born father.
"It's been a very long week for me," said Mike.

At his body shop in Tucson, Mike feels trapped and all alone.
Mike tells 9 On Your Side Reporter Steve Nuñez the emotional toll is also starting to affect his business.

Mike then turns his attention to answer a customer's question, and said, "We're not doing mechanical any more, I'm not kidding. I couldn't afford it."

On this Friday afternoon, Mike has to close shop for the weekend so he can go to Mexico.

9 On Your Side also made the trip to capture this reunion that happens once every two weeks.

We arrived in the Sonoran city just before midnight.

As Mike pulls up to the house where his wife and daughter live, Mayra greets him at the door. The two hug each other tightly for several seconds before walking inside of a small one bedroom townhouse.

Mike walks straight to his daughter's bed to hug and kiss her. Elani stays sound asleep.

Mike and Mayra met at a grocery store in Tucson seven years ago. After Elani came along two years later, they married.

Mike admits Mayra walked a fine line but insists it was within the confines of the law.
That's because Mayra's visitor visa did not limit the number of times she could visit.

ICE, Immigration & Customs Enforcement, as indicated on its website only requires visitors to show ties to Mexico such as home ownership.

Over the next four years, Mayra claims she would stay in Tucson for up to 30 days at a time.

"I was going back and forth like I usually cross," said Mayra.

Mike continued to explain, "She lived in both places. She had a house here in Mexico with her mom and dad."

Immigration law for visitors relies on the honor system. ICE tracks arrivals but not departures.

But Mayra's world came crashing down when she came back with her visa. She claims agents confiscated it because they accused her of living illegally in the United States.

"And they saw that I was married and that I do have a daughter," explained Mayra.
Mike continues her sentence, and said, "The second he found she was married, wait, wait, wait, you're married to a U.S. Citizen, oh, wait you only have a visitors visa."

"And after that they called me inside of the office they even put me in handcuffs," said Mayra.

Nuñez asked: "If you were married why didn't you go through the process of becoming legal?"

"I tried, it was so confusing everybody that I talked to gave me different information," answered

According to documents Mike showed 9 On Your Side, he was indeed in the process of filing paper work so Mayra could get her green card.

That's because Immigration law also clearly states, "every visitor applicant is an intending immigrant."
But Mike admits, because the two were married, he dragged his feet and failed to submit the paper work on time.

"It's probably one of the most difficult processes I've ever seen," said Mike.

On day two of our trip, it became quite obvious by the look in little Elani's eyes, that now, she too, shares the same painful story.

Mike said, "It promotes being illegal because it's so difficult to do it legally, it promotes, frankly it makes me want to say you know what I'm going to sneak her across."

Nuñez asked: "Why not just move to Mexico?"

"And give up what I've worked for for 20 years, the American dream?," answered Mike.

Mike said working with Mexican customs can prove just as difficult. Meanwhile, he remains hopeful his wife will get a new visa within the next year.