Immigration battle may split family
Vail CO, Colorado
MINTURN ” Carlos Armenta, 26, does not appear out of place in his cargo shorts, baseball cap and sports shades as he dotes on his nearly 3-year-old son Carlitos, but according to immigration law, he does not belong here.
The difference is Armenta is an illegal immigrant.
Armenta, originally from Mexico, is trying to apply for a green card so he can legally stay in the country with his wife, Cindy Goodwin and their two young sons. However, in the process of applying, he may not be able to re-enter the country.
The Armentas look like any other couple you might find in the Vail Valley playing at the playground with their boys, but most would never guess that the Minturn family may soon be forcibly split up if Armenta cannot stay in the country.
Goodwin and their sons, who are all U.S. citizens, would either have to wait for him in the United States or go with him to Mexico indefinitely waiting for authorities to decide on their case.
“I don’t want to split up our family,” said Goodwin, 31. Tears fill her blue eyes and her voice cracks as she holds their 11-month-old son, Denzel. “It’s so unfair. We’re just trying to be a normal family.”
Armenta and Goodwin met five years ago while dancing at Agave Restaurant in Avon and immediately fell in love, Goodwin said. Armenta had recently arrived in Vail looking for work, and Goodwin, who grew up in Colorado, was looking to settle down in the area. She did not know Armenta was an illegal immigrant at the time, but did not care when she found out, she said.
“I knew I had to stay here (after I met her),” Armenta said.
The couple got married in 2004 and began looking into options for Armenta to stay in the country legally. They did not want to live in fear of deportation, especially after their sons were born, Goodwin said.
“We were in love, and we wanted to be together. I thought we would be able to figure it out somehow,” Goodwin said.
Now, after two years of legal consultation, filling out forms and waiting, the family must make some difficult decisions.
Legally, the family faces several hurdles ” first, Armenta would need to apply for a green card in Mexico, which takes at least a year. The problem is that according to a 1996 federal law, if someone has illegally been in the United States for over a year, they are banned from re-entering the country for 10 years.
One alternative is if the immigrant’s spouse or parent are citizens or legal residents. It is possible to get an exception to the ban by proving that it would cause “extreme hardship” to the family members who are legally here, said Chris Pooley, an immigration lawyer in Avon.
But that is a difficult case to make.
“It’s not easy to get a waiver. Being separated from your family for 10 years is considered a normal hardship. Usually it has to be a medical hardship or severe financial hardship,” Pooley said.
The family’s last chance to make their case is Sept. 11, when they have their final appointment in Ciudad Juarez, a city across the border from El Paso, Tex.
If Armenta cannot get a waiver, the family may have to wait with him in Ciudad Juarez.
“I love my husband very much and don’t want to be separated from him. More importantly, I don’t want my children to grow up without their father,” Goodwin said.
However, she said fears the crime that is rampant Ciudad Juarez, and she does not know how the family would support themselves. She has heard stories of Americans being robbed and killed for their documents. Also, her youngest son, Denzel, has a weak respiratory system due to a virus, and she worries there will not be good medical care for him.
She cannot stay in the Vail Valley without the support of Armenta, a construction worker.
“Even if I worked full-time, I couldn’t even pay for rent here,” said Goodwin, who works at a daycare center. “I don’t know what I’d do without him.”
The choice of whether to risk going to Mexico is difficult, said Armenta, his face looking grim. He is scared for his family, he said.
“I have my family here. I want to help them. I worry for my kids,” he said.
Armenta came to the United States in 2000 from Veracruz, a southern state bordering the Gulf of Mexico. He had been doing ranching work in Mexico, but it was difficult for his family to make enough money to survive, he said.
So he decided to come to the United States, making the 35-hour trek to the border, then paying someone to smuggle him and some of his friends over the border into Douglas, Ariz. He worked near Chicago for a few years with his brother, then came to the valley because he heard there were jobs.
He sends money home to Mexico, but has not seen his parents and younger sister since he came to the United States. He knows coming here was illegal, and he knows the consequences, he said, but he does not regret it.
“I came here to get a better life. My family at home depends on me working here,” he said.
Goodwin said her husband talks on the phone with his family, but is always sad afterward. “He has his family at home, who really want to see him, but he’s also trying to support us. He’s torn,” she said.
If he is legalized, he can go home to see his family in Mexico without fear of never seeing his family here, Armenta said.
Many families in the valley are in the same situation, with a member of the family caught between living here illegally or being separated from their family, Pooley said. Some, like Armenta, are trying to rectify the situation and re-enter legally. Others are waiting, hoping that laws will change in their favor.
“It’s a Catch-22, and a lot of people are waiting for a change,” Pooley said. “But the consequences are that they can be deported, and enforcement has stepped up recently.”
There are an estimated 12-to 20-million illegal immigrants in the country ” either people who have overstayed their visas or people came illegally. There are more of the latter in the Vail area, said Pooley.
Goodwin said she thinks there need to be more legal possibilites for people to come to the country and work. Eagle County, in particular, depends on these workers, she said, but there are not enough visas.
Anyone would consider coming here for a better life if their family was living in poverty, she said.
“Yes, my husband came here illegally, but he is not a bad person. He is responsible, law-abiding, a hard worker, a good father, a good husband and overall a good person,” she said.
Their family should not have to be punished for that, she said.
“We shouldn’t have to choose between being exiled from our own country and breaking apart our loving, happy family, living in poverty and struggling to survive. At this point, I really don’t know what to do.”
Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 748-2928 or email@example.com.