Cornelio and I met in 1995 at a restaurant. It was not love at first sight for me! He worked as a dish washer and would stand in the corner and watch my sister and me when we sang karaoke. As the time passed, I became friends with the owner and eventually started working as a waitress in the evenings. Cornelio was promoted to cook and so began our love story. One slow evening he offered me some pineapple (which is my favorite fruit) and I happily took it! He held the next piece in his lips in hopes I would kiss him, he got his wish.
We began dating in 1996, moved in together in early 1997 and in September 1997 I found out that I was expecting our first (of three) child. Cornelio returned to Mexico every year for Christmas and 1997 would be no exception. We sadly said goodbye after Thanksgiving with the promise that we would call and write as often as possible and he would return after the New Year. My sister and I made a trip to Chihuahua in January of 1997 to visit him. It was then that I met his mother, father, sister and one of his brothers. The very next month we drove down to Cuidad Juarez to pick him up. We all stayed in Juarez that evening and the next day we drove to the border. I was under the impression he automatically received citizenship since we were common law married. I had convinced him that he had papers and so he proudly told the immigration officer he was a US Citizen. Unfortunately, ignorance is bliss and the law was not that. We were asked to pull over and then taken in for secondary questioning. Cornelio and I were separated and 5 hours later he emerged with a sworn statement saying he knew he was not a US Citizen and was charged with 212(a)(6)(c)(ii); which at the time we were told only held a 5 year bar.
It wasn’t until I returned home and began the research that we discovered it held a life time bar. Cornelio returned to the states the following month so we could be together as a family. On January 1, 2000 our dream came true and we were wed in a catholic church by a priest. Our oldest son was a year and half old and was our ring bearer. The ceremony was perfect and we knew we had our happy ever after, with one exception; the US government did not want Cornelio here. I had met a man, fell in love, had a child, everything I dreamed of as a little girl, but my government, a government that was supposed to be built on dreams, family and giving people the right to choose, wanted to take away my happy ever after. Because of this, we put off buying a home, buying a car and moving forward with our lives. A month after our wedding, I became pregnant with twins. We were so excited. In November 2000 our twins were born, happy and healthy.
In 2001, President Clinton enacted a change that would allow my husband to have temporary status; at a price. We borrowed $10,000 and began the process of getting him temporary residency. In 2003, the application was denied based on him stating he was a US Citizen several years before. Our hopes were crushed once again. We decided to fight back and appeal the decision and start living out of the shadows. We bought a car, a house, enrolled our kids in sports and began taking an active role in our community. After the appeals were filed, the waivers were requested and contact was made to the Attorney General, we found out that despite our efforts, everything was denied because he said he was a US Citizen in 1997. In 2010, we found out that Cornelio’s nieces were in foster care so we immediately began the process of getting custody of them. We had to fully disclose Cornelio’s immigration status to the county and believe that is what led Cornelio to be arrested by ICE on June 9, 2011 when he was leaving for work.
The experience we had with ICE was nothing I would ever wish on another soul. When we went to see Cornelio while he was in detention, I was told that I would have to choose which child I would take back to see him because only 1 child was allowed at a time. They would not let my children, citizens of the US, see their own father. Once things were decided, I was told that no one could go back and see him because he was in the medical unit. When I inquired as to why, I was told “we cannot disclose why, only that he is alive”. I had to leave the detention center with no idea if my husband was safe or not. The following night, he called and explained he was in the medical unit simply because he had to sleep with a c-pap. He was deported a couple of days later.
My children and I have been able to go to Mexico several times since that fateful day and each time, we fear for our lives, not knowing what to expect. I’ve had a gas station attendant steal from me, the federalies harass us and had food borne illnesses. During the past year and a half, I’ve met so many amazing people that this same law has affected and it needs to be changed. We are not seeking special treatment, but a change in our broken immigration system. There are too many families that make the choice not to stay together for their own reasons, we want to be a family but by law, cannot be. We cannot help who we fall in love in with, but with a change in our immigration system, we can keep more families together.