Married Couple Who Live On Different Sides of the U.S.-Mexico Border Further Proof of America's Stupid Immigration Laws


As Nick Gillespie noted below, immigration policy is warped here in the U.S. But it's not just the fault of Republicans or that awfully Republican-like Barack Obama. Today's dose of U.S. immigration policy sure is broken and is breaking up lives comes from the the Associated Press. Their tale describes the lives of Ana and Agustin Portillo, a married couple who are stuck on either side of the Mexico-U.S. border, a life-limbo that has its origins in Clinton-era legislation.

Ana, a formerly illegal immigrant from El Salvador, is in Los Angeles where the couple lived together for twenty years. But Agustin, a Mexican immigrant, has been living in Tijuana for two years. Ana comes to visit him on the weekends. And if she wanted to, she could probably move to Tijuana and live with him (at least the crime rate is dropping!). They were separated because Agustin became ill and returned to Mexico for three months to visit with his sisters and nephews in case it was his last chance to do so. Sneaking back into the U.S. was not as easy when he tried to come home. And since he has twice already been caught illegally crossing into the U.S., he's afraid of being permanently barred from entry.

Agustin is unskilled and he doesn't even seem to know what country he wants to live in! He's not exactly putting ont he red, white, and blue shirt and committing to America First. Except that that's the whole point of the absurdity of this system; to cross a border, especially when you have family on both sides, should be easier than this.

And in spite of their status as a ready-made wacky plot point for sitcoms, green card marriages are not as easy to pull of as portrayed. In 1996, Clinton signed immigration legislation that punished immigration violaters more harshly than previously. This included barring people who stayed illegally in the U.S. for more than 180 days from coming back for three years; people who illegally stay for more than a year are barred for a decade.  

Says the AP:

Under the law, the immigrant and their spouse must file a visa petition and attend an interview with a U.S. Consulate in their native land. There, the undocumented immigrant learns they are ineligible to live in the United States because they entered the country illegally or illegally overstayed a tourist visa….

This is the category Agustin likely falls in. He isn't certain. For years, he has been too terrified too apply for a visa, fearful that the application would cause him more trouble than good.

The law does allow for some exceptions. The couples can apply for an extreme hardship waiver to avoid the ban. For example, a terminally ill husband might argue that he needs his immigrant wife to care for him and he can't move to her native country because it has inadequate health care.

But the law does not define extreme hardship and case law suggests the government does not consider factors such as children or the potential earning losses of the spouse moving to the immigrant's home country.

In all, the State Department barred 22,000 people from re-entering the country for up to 10 years in 2010, up from roughly 13,000 in 2006. Nearly 19,000 people eventually received waivers allowing them to avoid the multi-year ban last year.

CBS News points to an immigration lawyer who believes 3.4 million immigrants are in Agustin's boat. They might qualify for the hardship waiver, but they are afraid of drawing attention to themselves and being banned from the U.S. so they don't apply.

Reason on immigration. And as Ron Bailey noted below, Reason's October 2008 issue deftly explained why this whole process isn't as easy as closed-borders/legal immigration advocates suggest.