Babeu's ex-lover controversy puts spotlight on immigration policy

Babeu's ex-lover controversy puts spotlight on immigration policy

CREATED Feb 21, 2012

Reporter: Claire Doan

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu is known for his hardline stance on illegal immigration, and now the controversy surrounding his ex-boyfriend has put the spotlight on immigration policies.

What remains unclear: the legal status of Babeu's ex-lover. "Jose" told CNN he had a visitor's visa - one an attorney tells KGUN9 News - prevents him from working and limits how long he can stay in the United States.

But that's not the only case, in which visitor's visas have caused confusion.

As 9 On Your Side's recently reported, a family claims they were torn apart after the wife had her visa confiscated by Border Patrol agents. Mayra Holmes was in the United States on a visitors visa, got married here - and was in the process of filing paperwork for a Green Card. But Holmes claimed agents thought she was trying to stay here illegally and forced her to go to back to Mexico.

So what is a visitor visa and what does it allow?

"He's legal. He has said that. I have said that," Babeu said in a CNN interview.

Jose claims he's in the country on a 10-year multiple entry tourist visa.

However, according to John Messing, an immigration attorney who is not related to the Babeu controversy, the status of a person with a visitor visa is a bit more nuanced.

"A 10-year visitor's visa is simply a pre-clearance issued by a consulate office in someone's home country after an interview that allows them to come home and present themselves multiple times to Border Patrol," Messing told 9 On Your Side

Then the person gets a form called I-94, allowing up to a one-year stay at a time. Another type of visa, the border crossing card, allows a person to stay in the country for 30 days at a time, but only within 100 miles of the border. However, neither allows a person to work - and Jose did, according to the Sheriff.

"He had a business with websites. He stole my websites and put slanderous information on my websites. How can anybody expect to do business like that?" Babeu said.

Messing said if a person is involved in income-producing activities on a visitor visa, then they've entered into what is called "unlawful presence" - which also applies if they are caught overstaying their visa.

If someone is caught overstaying their visas for 6 months or longer and leave the country, the person is barred from returning for 3 years. If the person overstays for one year, they could be barred from entering the U.S. for up to a decade. 

The catch, according to Messing, is figuring out who has been in the United States too long.

"There is no clear way that people are tracked when they're in the United States so that anybody is alerted if anybody overstays," Messing said, adding that people are usually caught for criminal activity, during a traffic stop or at a Border Patrol checkpoint.

It's unclear why Jose would be worried by alleged deportation threats if he maintains he is in the country legally. His attorney did not return calls for comment from KGUN9.