Family torn apart by lengthy immigration process
SILVERTHORNE Silverthorne resident Bradley Dorcas used to come home to a lively household after a long day’s work for a local communications company. His wife, Michele, would greet him and listen as he talked about his day. Then the couple would sit down with their two sons and enjoy supper together. The evening hours ticked away as the family played board games like Yahtzee or settled in front of the television for a movie. During the summer, the family might take a short hike in the evening, or host the neighborhood kids who had befriended the Dorcas boys.Now, it’s those same evening hours that Dorcas dreads.”It’s hard. I go home to a quiet house, and that’s the worst part,” Dorcas said.These days, Dorcas eats dinner alone, then calls his family on the telephone for an hour-long chat, but “besides that it’s just boring; there’s nothing,” he said. Dorcas has lived 1,500 miles away from his wife and the kids for the past six months as they wade through the intricacies of the U.S. Immigration system, trying to secure visas for the three Canadians.After months of filling out paperwork – most of it more than once due to overlapping requirements from two federal agencies – and forking over thousands of dollars in fees to the government, the Dorcases are running low on hope.”Emotionally it’s tough and I struggle a lot of the time,” Dorcas said. “… I tend to break down in the evenings and get it all back the next day.”
The problems began in 2005, when Michele and her sons had already unknowingly been living illegally in the country for nearly four years.Dorcas, a U.S. citizen, and, Michele, a Canadian, met in 2000 while Dorcas was living in Iowa. The two married a year later after a long distance courtship, and Michele and her two young sons, now ages 13 and 7, joined Dorcas permanently in the U.S.Before the couple wed, they visited a magistrate to obtain a marriage license, but no one said anything about Michele needing to apply for permanent resident status in the U.S. The couple assumed that marrying an American citizen would automatically legalize Michele to live in the U.S.”We didn’t know, and I know ignorance of the law is no excuse, but we truly didn’t know,” Dorcas said.They wouldn’t realize the seriousness of the error until three years later, when Michele decided to apply for a job. In the process of trying to get a social security number, Michele discovered she in fact should have applied to change her immigration status.By this time, the family had settled in Summit County, where they moved in February 2002 to fulfill Dorcas’ lifelong dream of living of Colorado. Dorcas had a secure job in his field and the two boys were happy attending Silverthorne Elementary and Summit Middle School, respectively.But, the family was about to be torn apart.As soon as they realized their error, Bradley and Michele immediately logged onto the Department of Homeland Security website and downloaded forms for lawful permanent residence, commonly known as a green card. Six months after they mailed the forms, they received notice for Michele and the boys to go to Denver for an interview with an immigration officer. They didn’t read much into the appointment.
“We were expecting to be able to go down to Denver and the immigration officer would adjust our status to legal permanent resident – her’s and the kids’ – and we would go from there with whatever else we needed to do as a next step,” Dorcas said.Dorcas proved to the officer the boys were enrolled in school, and that he and Michele had a true marriage, not just a union for immigration purposes. Then, the officer asked everyone but Michele to leave the room.”We left and about 15 minutes later, my wife came out and she was pale-faced,” he said. “She said, ‘The officer told me I have to leave the country.'”The officer wasn’t deporting Michele. Rather, she said if Michele and the kids voluntarily left the country and acquired their immigrant visas through the U.S. Department of State, she would approve the necessary petition for them to obtain those visas. The official said the entire process shouldn’t take longer than 12 weeks.That was last July. On Aug. 18, 2006, Dorcas drove his family to Michele’s home in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where they’ve been waiting ever since for word on their visas.Every day that passes, the family grows more frustrated with the process. Before Michele left the U.S, she was dealing with the Department of Homeland Security, a sort of “one-stop shop,” according to Dorcas. All the forms can be downloaded online and the website explains in detail every piece of information that’s needed for the immigrant visa petition.Because the State Department actually issues the visas, she’s been dealing with that branch of the U.S. government since she moved back to Canada. The State Department requires a visa applicant to fill out one form, wait four to six weeks, then fill out another form and wait again.
“Also, at the State Department, 90 percent of the information they ask for is the same forms that Homeland Security uses – the same steps, the same process, the same forms. There’s no communication between the two,” Dorcas said.In a packet Michele received about a month ago, the State Department notified Michele of an April 12 priority date, when all her forms are due. If no progress is made then, or his family’s visas are denied, Dorcas said he will likely give up and move to Canada. That means Michele and the kids will have to leave Summit County behind for good, a place where they had friends and felt at home. Dorcas will have to give up a stable career in an industry he’s worked in for 17 years, and hope he can land a comparable job in Canada.Dorcas has contacted U.S. Senator Ken Salazar’s office for help, which in turn requested Michele’s file from the State Department. Representatives from Salazar’s office made no promises that they could move along the situation, but Dorcas is hoping he can at least get some answers with the senator’s help.For now, the family will continue to talk on the phone every night and use web cams to stay in communication. Dorcas’ employer has been giving him one week off every six weeks to stay with his family in Canada, but that will be a challenge if the separation stretches into the summer. He’ll be out of vacation time.”The good-byes are very difficult, and it’s a huge financial burden now because I’m supporting two households,” he said.Nicole Formosa can be reached at (970) 668-4629, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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