The right way and the wrong wrong way

U.S. Consulate waiting area in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

Two stories caught my attention this morning in the feed reader (I’m still catching up with my feeds after the Mexico trip).

Change.org has the story (and petition) of a couple caught unawares by the ten-year bar when he self-deported to Mexico a year ago with hopes of returning with a marriage visa in short order.

Miguel Moreno was not aware that he was subject to a ten-year ban from the United States based on his illegal presence here, and he is not alone. Many people assume that once they marry a citizen (like Moreno did) or permanent resident, it is a simple process to immigrate legally. It’s not. When I was in Mexico last month I visited two couples who are living in “exile” because they cannot right their partners’ statuses, one gentleman living apart from his American wife since he was deported two years ago and a man who spent three months away from home, in Mexico, and was recently granted an I-601 waiver from the Consulate in Juarez. He is now home near Minneapolis planning for the rest of his life.

Moreno has four kids to take care of in California and had a good job. Now he is in limbo in Mexico, unsure if or when he might return to his family.

The Change.org post cites some older stats for I-601 waivers—a hardship waiver that erases the three- and ten- year bars for some immigrants if their U.S. partner can prove extreme hardship.

USCIS says that between 2005 and 2008, the number of these waivers, called I-601 forms, submitted in Juarez rose by 570%. To help eliminate the backlog, the agency hired two additional adjudicators and enlisted additional offices to review applications. But as of 2009, USCIS reported that only half of the I-601 forms submitted in Juarez were approved within a few days. The rest required further review and took 12 to 15 months to process. For families like the Morenos, that wait has dire consequences.

I have some newer stats to add: According to USCIS public affairs officer Tim Counts, there were 22,000 I-601s filed in FY 2010, 75 percent of them filed in Ciudad Juarez (the largest U.S. Consulate in the world). Fifty percent of the 601s filed in Juarez were approved within two weeks (although the total wait time for a visa is closer to three months; applicants must wait for an appointment at the Consulate first). At the end of FY 2010 (September 30), there were 3,900 pending 601s in the hopper, Counts told me via e-mail last month.

Not all of these applications are for spouses, but a large percentage definitely are; there are a ton of people in Badillo’s shoes.

Then there is the wrong way. L.A. Weekly has the juicy story (and juicy photos) of Fernanda Romero, who pleaded guilty to a marriage of convenience last week in L.A. last week.

It could earn them some pity in front of the judge; still, at worst, their consequences could be up to five years in prison and $250,000 in fees.

According to City News Service, “prosecutors claim the pair were living in separate homes and dating other people when they tied the knot.”

The question is, who is worse off? The guy who did it the right way has been separated from his family for a year, causing a major loss of income, stress and suffering for his wife and kids (and other friends and family). The woman who tried to sneak it lives in Westwood and stars in movies. I’ll bet she will not serve much time either, if any.