HIGH POINT, N.C. (WGHP) — Two siblings who have donated thousands of computers to Triad students may be forced to leave America.
The siblings moved to America as children and have since built a thriving business together. They’ve given computers to thousands of students. Now they could be forced to give up everything because of a simple mistake that got them detained at the Canadian border.
“We went from Slovakia to Canada in pursuit of my parents’ dream,” Miriam Martincova said.
She was 4. Her brother, Adrian Martinca, was 8. They moved the North Carolina from Canada 14 years ago. They’re in the U.S. on an E-2 visa.
“Our family pretty much had to prove to the United States government that we have a business here, and we have the opportunity to invest and create jobs,” Martinca said.
They run a tech company. They also run a nonprofit, Technology for the Future, that puts computers in students’ hands. This year they donated more than 10,000 devices to schools in Guilford County and around the country.
“Pretty much we were thrown into this frontline crisis. We are now the ones responsible for making sure children can continue their educational journey,” Martinca said.
They’re on what’s called an I-94. Their visa is what allows them to come to the U.S. — it wasn’t set to expire until 2023 — but that I-94 gives them permission to stay. Theirs is for two years at a time.
Martinca told FOX8 they’ve always had to cross the border by a certain date and then get a new one when they cross back into the U.S. While trying to get computers out to two schools last month they overlooked their date by two and a half weeks.
“So as soon as we found out, we quickly drove up to the Canadian border in Buffalo because we knew at that point that we were late and we were told we just needed to go up to the border and renew it,” Martinca said.
“They tell us we are arrested,” Martincova said. “I started shaking, obviously because I don’t break rules. The worst thing I’ve done is get a parking ticket.”
They had two choices: wait for a judge to hear their case or agree to leave the country by signing a voluntary departure form.
“I was really concerned because what they told us was that if the judge decides that we did overstay and that we had to leave, it would essentially begin the process of an actual deportation, which results in a ban. I think that’s my greatest fear,” Martincova said.
So they decided to leave. Now the clock is ticking. They have until June 21.
“It doesn’t matter what we were doing, it doesn’t matter what we do,” Martincova said. “We were late. And that’s all that matters.”
“There are instances where even if it’s been a matter of days or weeks less than a month, those are some harsh consequences where if you fail to maintain your status,” immigration attorney David Long said.
FOX8 asked U.S. Customs and Border Patrol if there’s been any kind of grace period during the pandemic.
“There is no grace periods and non-citizens may access the I-94 website if they require information or a reminder on their given period of admission,” a U.S. CBP spokesperson responded.
Long does not represent Martinca and Martincova. FOX8 spoke with him in generalities. He says exceptions do happen sometimes.
“You may call it a grace period where they say if the violation of status was through no fault of your own, and what does no fault of your own mean? That’s kind of a nebulous term. That’s where lawyers or the client tries to argue in defense of their situation if there’s good cause you may get lucky.”
FOX8 asked what’s stopping them from becoming citizens. Turns out it’s not that simple.
“The way you can get citizenship as an immigrant is to get a green card then apply for citizenship,” Martincova saod. “But with our current visa, we don’t also qualify for a green card. So we don’t have that path.”
“I think the pathways to earning your right to be a part of the American family don’t have a lot of choice within them,” Martinca said. “To prove yourself in any way, we’re primarily founded on the initial intention of the application. And whatever it is, that’s it. If you want to change your intention that changes everything.”
They tell us their attorney has advised them that getting public support might be their way to stay. They’ve started a change.org petition. If you’d like to read more of their story or sign the petition, you can follow it here.