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Ana Velasco with son Sebastian and daughter Ana Lucia

Green Card Hell

When Martin Tijerina collapsed in January, his wife Ana Velasco was trapped in Mexico.

by Eve Silberman

From the April, 2019 issue

Ironically, Velasco had gone to Guadalajara in November to regularize her immigration status. Though Tijerina is a U.S. citizen, as are their two children, she'd never applied for status as a permanent resident.

When she came to Ann Arbor twenty years ago, she hadn't expected to stay: she was just escorting a young niece to join her mother, Velasco's sister. Entering the U.S. through Arizona was no problem back then, Velasco says--the border agents didn't even ask to see her passport.

Decent-paying work as a caregiver for the elderly and the prospect of sending her own five-year-old daughter Alicia to good schools persuaded her to stay. Several months later, she sent for Alicia, now a student at WCC. Her children with Tijerina, eleven-year-old Sebastian and Ana Lucia, almost seventeen, attend Scarlett and Huron.

Her niece and sister are now naturalized U.S. citizens. But it was only last year that Velasco, alarmed by President Trump's attacks on immigrants, decided to apply for permanent residency--a status better known, for the identification it confers, as having a "green card." To do that, she had to return to Mexico.

Since Velasco didn't have legal status, her immigration lawyer, Krystle-Marie Medina, had to get a waiver before she left. In the past, Medina says someone like Velasco--married to an American citizen, paying taxes, and with no criminal record--would have been quickly interviewed at a U.S. consulate and been back in a week or two. But she cautioned her client that since 2017, some consulates had been flagging people involved in "alien smuggling"--and Velasco had arranged for her daughter to cross the border.

Since it was her own child, that "wouldn't have been a problem" in the past, the lawyer says. But the Trump administration "is just applying anything they can to make it more difficult" for immigrants to get green cards. In Velasco's case, that meant extending her review from a few weeks to twelve to eighteen months.

After her husband was hospitalized,

...continued below...

Velasco applied for an emergency waiver that would allow her to return while her application was pending. She was granted the waiver--but then her visa application was held up. As the Observer went to press, Velasco was still in Mexico, waiting and worrying.

Her family desperately needs her income. Even before the aneurysm, her husband was disabled from injuries accumulated while working construction. He'd also gone through cancer. Though Ana Lucia works two after-school jobs to help with the bills, their power was shut off for a time.

Velasco is grateful that a group of volunteers called Michigan Support Circle paid that bill. They're also paying Medina, and schools staff are supporting Sebastian and Ana Lucia. But she is now worrying about her own health: a diabetic, she's running out of the insulin she brought from Ann Arbor, and restocking is an issue.

Michigan Support Circle activist Rosalie Lochner predicts that "Ana will ultimately be granted permanent residency."

But "time and again, she is hitting roadblocks," Lochner says, "And this seems to be the new normal for green card applicants."     (end of article)

[Originally published in April, 2019.]


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