As she mulls over whether President Barack Obama’s immigration plan could possibly help her, U.S. citizen Nicole Salgado cannot help but feel intense frustration.
She is exasperated with repeatedly explaining to members of Congress that it was Congress that approved a 1996 law making it impossible for her to legalize her undocumented husband of 10 years — even though she’s an American citizen who grew up near Syracuse, New York.
Salgado is also fed up with explaining why she, not by choice, was forced to move to Mexico eight years ago to live with her spouse Margarito Resendiz, a construction worker she met in San Mateo County, California.
He was forced to leave the U.S. and serve out a mandatory 10-year minimum “bar” on living in the U.S. That’s a punishment he faced after the couple tried to do the “right thing” and come forward to seek legal status for Resendiz based on his marriage to Salgado.
The move to Mexico has exhausted the couple’s savings and derailed dreams. And it’s left them struggling to eke out enough of a living in Mexico to raise the couple’s now 4-year-old daughter, who is also a U.S. citizen. At 36, Salgado has patched together gigs teaching English. But she's been unable to make consistent use of her Cornell University education and her master's degree in teaching science from California's San Jose State University.
“Living down here in exile,” she said, “I have lost a lot of faith in our U.S. system.”
Salgado is one of hundreds of thousands of Americans married to undocumented people who have moved abroad to stay with their spouses, suffered through separation from them, or live in constant fear that their spouses will be discovered and deported.
These families are wondering if they’ll benefit from Obama’s executive action to temporarily legalize illegal immigrants with close ties to Americans.
Obama is expected to announce plans in broad strokes on Thursday night in a speech. The expectation is that he will spare certain illegal immigrants with U.S.-born children or U.S. spouses from deportation, as media have reported.
But the fine details of the plan will be of utmost importance, especially to people like Salgado, whose husband is already outside the country after voluntarily leaving to serve his bar. He cannot get a visa to return unless reforms to the law are made or Obama uses his power to provide a humanitarian path for his return.
Other foreign spouses have been deported after their marriages, and now have records that could also complicate their return.
As the Center for Public Integrity and KQED Radio reported in 2012, some of these couples were torn apart after they discovered that Congress had created obscure but harsh penalties specifically to punish undocumented people who seek green cards after marriage — no matter if those marriages are legitimate and couples already have children together.
Couples have been shocked to discover that the undocumented spouse must first comply with a minimum 10-year bar before trying to get permanent residency, or a “green card.” Some foreign spouses have been slapped with 20-year bars or lifetime bars if they have a deportation in their history or were accused of falsely claiming to be a legal resident at some point.
In Resendiz’s case, because he had a prior deportation before marrying, he faced a permanent bar with an option to request a pardon — no guarantees — after 10 years. The application alone for the pardon will likely cost a total of at least $10,000 between filing fees and lawyer’s costs. That’s $10,000 that Salgado doesn’t have now and doesn’t think she will have in the near future.