Rocky Russell has a nice three-bedroom home in Port Neches that he recently finished remodeling, and the plan was for him, his wife Lupita and their son Estevan to enjoy the refreshed digs. The family of three’s life wasn’t unusual; Russell works as a contractor for the refineries, his wife took care of the family and Estevan was a student in the PN-G school district.
But all that’s been put on hold since last summer, and right now, Lupita and Estevan are 1,100 miles away in Jalisco, Mexico, and Russell has rented out rooms in his remodeled house to cover expenses as he deals with one of the most trying ordeals of his life — how to get his wife back into the United States.
Lupita, 32, came to the United States illegally in 2000 and has been back in Mexico since the middle of 2010. She returned then, along with Estevan, to see her family and wait for Russell to petition the immigration department and secure her visa so the family could reunite and live happily ever after in Southeast Texas.
“The lawyer told me he could have her home by Christmas,” said Russell, who met with an immigration law firm, Steven P. Mock and Associates out of Houston. This meeting took place in August 2010. $4,000 and 14 months later, not only is Lupita not back in Texas, she won’t be home by this Christmas and she’s banned from re-entering the country.
After several failed petitions, the plan was to apply for a waiver to get Lupita back into the country.
“The hardest part was telling my wife,” said Russell, who broke the news to his wife over the phone when he found out this past July that they could not apply for a waiver to get her back in the states. “Telling her that everything we’ve tried to do for the last 10 years, going back and forth, trying to get the paperwork done, meeting with the lawyers, all of it. And I had to tell her, it’s not going to happen.”
Russell, 47, said he’s upset that his country, where he’s paid his taxes, can’t do anything to help him get his wife back in the country.
“I support my wife, my family, she’s not here taking anybody’s job,” said Russell, who’s been married to Lupita since 2001. The couple met in Port Arthur the year prior while Russell was working with her brothers.
“I told my boss the day I saw her, ‘I’m going to marry her,’ and I did,” Russell said.
He’s written letters to Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Rep. Ted Poe to see if their offices can help. Hutchison’s responded a few weeks later and said there wasn’t anything they could do to help with a ban from the country. Poe’s office has not responded.
The ban stemmed from 2007, when, while waiting for the immigration department to rule on whether or not they would grant his wife a visa to enter the country, Russell drove to Mexico and picked his wife up and attempted to bring her back across the border. He said he didn’t try anything illegal, and when stopped at the Laredo border crossing, border agents asked to see his wife’s documentation. Russell told them he was petitioning for her citizenship. The agents told Russell the paperwork wasn’t going to work and she was told to return to Jalisco, but was not deported.
Four years later, the immigration department issued the ban because they said that Russell had said his wife was a citizen, and that led to the permanent ban.
“That’s not what happened; I told them we were petitioning for her citizenship,” Russell said.
Unfortunately, Russell not only got wronged by the border agents, according to his story, but he also received questionable legal advice, said Ojay Grace, an immigration attorney out of Houston, which happens all too often in the extremely complicated world of immigration law.
“It’s very prevalent,” said John Valdez, who oversees the immigration department for Garg and Associates, which has offices in Texas, California and New Mexico. “There are so many cases like (Lupita’s) and we turn away people every week because there’s no reason to take their money.”
A phone call to Steven P. Mock and Associates was not returned by press time.
Valdez, 55, who’s been practicing immigration law for the better part of 16 years, said Lupita’s case sounds like it has “all sorts of problems.”
“There’s the unlawful presence ban, if you’re in the U.S. for more than a year without status, you’re banned from coming back to the country for more than 10 years, and she made multiple reentries in violation of that ban, and there really isn’t a waiver for that ban. So, I don’t know why the (lawyer) even took any money; I don’t see where there was any relief available to her.”
According to Valdez, barring a congressional miracle where they vote to let her in the country and grant her citizenship, there’s no way for Russell’s wife to get back into the country legally for the next 10 years.
“She’s a high priority to keep out of the country, according to the government,” Valdez said in a phone interview from his office in California. “There’s no relief available. The only thing I can think of is a private bill, where Congress votes on it and makes her a citizen. What are the chances that’s going to happen? I don’t think that’s going to happen.”
“She’s not in a good position, any way you look at it,” said Valdez, “I don’t give her any chance of getting back into this country until she’s been outside of it for at least 10 years, starting from the last time she left the country.”
“I wouldn’t take the case,” Valdez added.
As for Russell, he’s got plenty to worry about as the countdown to heading to Mexico to see his wife and son nears. “Right now, I’m working on getting my bills caught up, just getting some other things caught up, and I figure by Christmas, get my money situated and head on down there.”
The long-time laborer isn’t sure what he’s going to do yet about work when he gets to Mexico. “I don’t know,” he said with a nervous chuckle. Russell, who makes a good living working for the refineries, has no illusions about making that kind of money in Mexico.
“The average income down there is about $50 a week. I’m hoping I go down there, stay for a few months, keep an e-mail and just search for jobs here and just come back and forth between here and there.”
Regardless of what he does, the time has come for him to see his family, especially his 10-year-old son, a U.S. citizen born in Texas.
“I can’t leave them by themselves any more. It’s become too much. It’s too much on our marriage, too much on our son; he’s having a lot of behavioral issues over there now. It’s been rough and really hard for him. I haven’t spent the night with my wife in five or six months.”
The ordeal has also changed the way he views immigration into the United States.
“Most people on the outside, here in the South anyway, there’s a stigma that these people are here and want to use our stuff and parasite off of our country. But we were just born to receive the rights from this country; these people risk their lives, some even die, just to get over here and get a job so they can take care of their family. And yeah, they put themselves in that position, but they’re after a better way of life.”
And while there are plenty that argue illegal immigration is hurting the country, the Federation for Immigration Reform estimated in 2010 that illegal immigration cost the U.S. taxpayers $113 billion, Russell said it’s time to start documenting immigrants and put them on the tax rolls.
“We’ve opened the gates; let’s document these people and give them Social Security numbers,” said Russell. “Then they have to pay taxes for the work that they do. It seems like an obvious solution. If you’re worried about drug cartels and criminals, start documenting these people coming in. That way you’ve got more Social Security numbers, more identification and all that, and then if they’re here, I know who they are.”
Ultimately though, Russell said it comes down to one thing – money.
“It’s a racket, I don’t care what anybody says. Immigration charges $500 and down, just for a document.”
And while he’s spent close to $10,000 in legal fees with no result, Russell is resigning himself to the fact that he’s going to have to sell his home, all of his possessions, and risk the dangers of cartel violence to reunite with his family.
“I feel kind of powerless,” he said over the inability to bring his family back. “I just don’t understand — my country, my home, where I’m from, there’s nothing anybody can do. Nothing?”