Immigration Fears of Fil-Am Army Family

Imagine that you are fighting and putting your life on the line for your country that doesn’t want your family on its soil. For Lt. Kenneth Tenebro, his wife’s well being is always on his mind. In an article by Julia Preston from the New York Times reports on how Tenebro’s tour of duty in Iraq had him in fear that his wife, Wilma, back home in New York with their infant daughter, would be deported. Wilma, who like her husband was born in the Philippines, is an illegal immigrant.  “That was our fear all the time,” Lieutenant Tenebro said. When he called home, “She often cried about it,” he said. “Like, hey, what’s going to happen? Where will I leave our daughter?” Lieutenant Tenebro decided to tell his story publicly for the first time after lawyers advised Mrs. Tenebro that she had little hope of being approved to remain here as a legal resident without a change in immigration law. He risks drawing the attention of his commanders and the immigration authorities to his wife’s illegal status.

According to the article Mrs. Tenebro is snagged on a statute, notorious among immigration lawyers, that makes it virtually impossible for her to become a legal resident without first leaving the United States and staying away for 10 years. The severe penalty applies to Mrs. Tenebro even though she is the wife of an American citizen who is also an active duty serviceman. In 2008, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the federal agency, gave Mrs. Tenebro approval to become a legal permanent resident, as the spouse of an American citizen. Immigration law is intended to make it easy for foreigners who marry citizens to become legal residents. However, due to the type of visa she acquired (crewman’s visa), she overstayed. As a result, she is required to finish the paperwork for her green card in the Philippines. Every lawyer the couple consulted gave them the same bad news: Even though Mrs. Tenebro has qualified for a green card, if she leaves the United States to get it, she will automatically trigger the legal bar that will block her from returning for 10 years.

Consular officials have the authority to grant waivers allowing spouses to return to the U.S. more quickly than others. But officials in Manila are known among lawyers for being especially reluctant to give waivers. The main topic of debate in recent news is illegal immigration, especially with Arizona’s controversial anti-immigration law. Immigration lawyers said the Tenebros’ case illustrates legal obstacles that have stopped immigrants from becoming legal even when they could qualify. For more on the article, click here.

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