New immigration policy may keep Marine vet, family together
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Charles King turned 19 in a foxhole.
“Or, as we call it in the Marine Corps, a fighting hole,” he said last week, in his house in Winston-Salem. In March 2003, King was the tip of the sword, part of the first assault wave in the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Alejandra Apreza, an orphan, turned 13 in survival mode.
As King was about to get marching orders, she had already headed north. It was November 2002, two weeks after her mother, Glafira Sanchez, had died of a heart attack, she said, sitting across the room from Charles.
Silently, at night, with other immigrants and a well-paid “coyote,” or guide, she squirmed through a hole in a chain-link fence into Texas, leaving Acapulco to live with siblings in Winston-Salem.
Charles and Alejandra King, now married, met here about six years later.
At home last week, their daughter, Gabriela, immediately befriended a guest in their house near Bethabara Park, showing off a bracelet that she had made in preschool with purple and green beads and a white elastic string.
Her younger brother, Gian, quickly followed suit, curling up in the guest’s lap once his sister had wrapped up her display.
On a flat-screen TV, a Netflix program streamed an animated children’s program without commercials.
Charles, a former Winston-Salem police officer, is now working toward a real-estate license.
Alejandra counts her blessings.
In addition to having the house, a beautiful family and a good job, she has something that can never be taken away: the unbelievable generosity of a high-school teacher who kept her in school and, eventually, pushed her to get a college degree – she chose Salem College.
Still, something is missing: legal immigration status.
Alejandra cannot fix her immigration status without returning to Mexico and facing a possible ban from re-entering the U.S. for up to 10 years.
But under a new immigration policy implemented this month by the Obama administration, she aims to become a permanent resident, known commonly as someone who has a green card.
Spouses, children and parents of veterans and active members of the military may apply for what is referred to as “parole in place,” the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced Nov. 15, a Friday.
The following Monday, Alejandra submitted an application to USCIS through the Winston-Salem law firm of Elliot Morgan Parsonage, where she works as a bilingual legal assistant.
The wife of a veteran, Alejandra likely is eligible.
Immediate family of veterans should be granted parole in place absent any “adverse” factors, such as a criminal record, said Helen Parsonage, a partner at the law firm who specializes in immigration issues.
“Alejandra, who earned a scholarship to college and then her degree, who has two U.S. citizen children, who is a productive wage-earner and whose husband served honorably not just in the Marines, but for WSPD as well, is the poster child for parole in place,” she said.
Polls back immigration reform
Polls show that a majority of Americans support providing a path toward citizenship for immigrants living in the U.S. unlawfully.
For example, a Quinnipiac University poll conducted Nov. 6-11 among 2,545 registered voters nationwide found that 26 percent said “illegal immigrants” should be “forced to leave” the U.S., 12 percent favored allowing them to stay without a path to citizenship, and 57 percent support allowing them to stay and eventually apply for citizenship.
Despite the poll numbers, the Obama administration’s policy shift on parole in place has come amid waning prospects for passage anytime soon of comprehensive immigration reform in Congress.
Immigration reform has been supplanted in Washington by other issues, such as the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, as well as the government shutdown.
USCIS explained some of the reasons behind the new policy in a memo dated Nov. 15.
“Military preparedness can potentially be adversely affected if active members of the U.S. Armed Forces and individuals serving in the selected reserve of the ready reserve, who can be quickly called into active duty, worry about the immigration status of their spouses, parents and children.
“Similarly, our veterans, who have served and sacrificed for our nation, can face stress and anxiety because of the immigration status of their family members in the United States. We as a nation have made a commitment to our veterans, to support and care for them. It is a commitment that begins at enlistment, and continues as they become veterans,” the memo said.
Critics of the policy shift said that it represents another abuse of power by President Barack Obama.
Last year, the Obama administration implemented another major shift in immigration policy – known as Deferred Action for Early Childhood Arrivals, or DACA – which allowed younger immigrants without serious criminal records to apply for a two-year reprieve from the possibility of deportation.
The reprieve makes a person eligible to get a Social Security card, work permit and driver license.
Alejandra received deferred action after applying for it.
Through it, she is also considered by immigration authorities to be living lawfully in the U.S.
However, there is a distinction between living lawfully in the U.S. and having legal immigration status. Alejandra and other recipients of deferred action do not obtain legal immigration status, such as becoming a permanent resident or citizen.
For close relatives of active service members and veterans, the latest immigration policy of parole-in-place goes a step further. It not only removes the threat of deportation, but also provides an avenue through which someone such as Alejandra may obtain legal immigration status without leaving the U.S.
Alejandra aims to gain permanent residency and then, eventually, apply for citizenship.
Dan Stein, the president of the Washington-based Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR, said that policy shifts of such significance should be decided by Congress, not unilaterally by the White House.
“If the president wanted to exempt relatives of military personnel from deportation, he should have put a bill before Congress. Instead, he has once again chosen to bypass Congress and exercise broad powers not granted to him under the Constitution,” he said.
Married in 2010
The opportunity to apply for parole in place comes five years after Alejandra had graduated from high school, and as many years after she had met Charles.
It was June 2008.
She was working at a fast-food restaurant.
He was a Winston-Salem police officer – going out of his way, across town, to have lunch where she worked, just to see the girl behind the counter.
He was stalking her, he jokes.
During one of his visits, Alejandra rattled off something in Spanish to a co-worker. He had a hunch that she was talking about him, they said.
“I told her, ‘You know I understand every word you’re saying, right?” Charles said, recalling that first encounter. (He didn’t understand, she now knows.)
Alejandra turned red.
He had her phone number shortly after.
They got married in 2010, when she was a sophomore at Salem College.
Alejandra started her senior year of high school with little hope of going to college.
She was a straight-A student without legal permission to be in the U.S. As a result, she would have had to pay out-of-state tuition at a North Carolina public college – four times as much as in-state tuition, in some cases – although she had attended middle and high school in the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools.
With a push from a high-school teacher and others, Alejandra had been accepted to Salem College. She qualified for scholarships from the college and through a local church that covered tuition and a portion of room and board by the time she had met Charles in June 2008, at the end of her senior year.
She finished college within four years, having Gabriela and Gian along the way.
“Salem College is pleased to assist young women, like Alejandra, who demonstrate outstanding potential in academics, personal motivation and strong character and who can benefit from, and add to, the quality of life on our campus,” college spokeswoman Michelle Melton said.
Teacher takes her in
Alejandra is a long way from that chain-link fence in Texas – and the initial heartbreak of losing her mother.
Alejandra turned out to be a straight-A student, good enough to earn college scholarships. But the early days of middle school were not easy when she first arrived. From English to Spanish and vice versa, she tediously translated, word-for-word, everything.
Her mother, she said, had told her to do well in school – to never depend on any man.
“She’s a warrior,” Charles said.
Alejandra would meet one of her hardest tests during her junior year at East Forsyth High School. Her brother, entangled in his own fight with alcohol, skipped out. Alejandra found herself living with her sister-in-law. The bills weren’t going away. Alejandra had to get a job, make some money.
Alejandra started missing class – a lot.
A teacher noticed.
Sharon Anthony, now an English teacher in New York, once taught at East Forsyth and had Alejandra as a student during her sophomore year. Although Alejandra was not her student that junior year, Anthony knew something was wrong.
“This brilliant woman is failing,” Anthony recalled in a phone interview. “This is the kid you’re not supposed to let go.”
Anthony is a spiritual person, she said, but she is not the kind of person who hears voices from beyond the grave. One morning, she heard Alejandra’s mother. While preparing to teach Sunday school in Kernersville, Anthony said, she felt as though Alejandra’s mother was saying something to her.
“OK. Now. Go get her. Go get my kid,” she said.
Anthony went hunting.
She knew Alejandra had a connection with the Salvation Army, so she called local posts until she found one that knew where she was. By the time Anthony found her, Alejandra was living with her sister-in-law in a garage – working, paying rent, doing homework at night by a street lamp when she could.
Anthony took her in.
“It’s what you hope any person would do in the same situation,” said Anthony, who was known to her East Forsyth students under her former name, Mrs. Hackelman.
“It was a no-brainer – ‘Get in the car, babe.’ You don’t leave a little girl in the garage,” Anthony said.
Anthony filled out paperwork with county social-services officials and let Alejandra stay with her and her family. It was the whole thing: room, shelter, food, nurturing. For the rest of Alejandra’s junior year and all of senior year, she would not have to be in survival mode. She could be a student, just a student. She even had enough time to join the track team.
The two just had to figure out what Alejandra would call Anthony.
“Mom” was already taken. Mrs. Hackelman was too formal. Serendipitously, they landed on JoJo – after seeing the name on a license plate.
In 2010, JoJo attended the wedding of Alejandra and Charles. She was also there when their first child was born.
This Thanksgiving, Alejandra remembers where she has come from and who was there for her along the way. There is no way that her mother is not watching over her. The road that she has traveled since entering the U.S. illegally 11 years ago is filled with small miracles that, she said, were helped along by her mother.
“I do believe my mom has helped me through all this. It’s the only way,” she said.